— Books I’ve Read in 2014 —
SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn
Another great novel by Gillian Flynn. I loved GONE GIRL when I read it at the beginning of last year. I raced through it because the pacing compelled me to. This book had a similar rushing pace and a deliciously dark plot that I couldn’t stop reading.
WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.
NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.
HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.(Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Gillian Flynn here.
Follow Gillian on Facebook here.
AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang
I’ve wanted to read this story ever since I heard about it over a year ago at a conference while listening to a talk about graphic novels. It finally made it to the top of my TBR pile and it was well worth the wait. What a fantastic story. The artwork leaps off the page and the humor is laugh-out loud funny.
All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl…
Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god…
Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he’s ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Danny’s a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse…
These three apparently unrelated tales come together with an unexpected twist, in a modern fable that is hilarious, poignant and action-packed. American Born Chinese is an amazing rise, all the way up to the astonishing climax–and confirms what a growing number of readers already know: Gene Yang is a major talent. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Gene Luen Yang here.
Follow Gene on Twitter here.
Follow Gene on Facebook here.
A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by George R.R. Martin
I was so excited to find out what happened to some of my favorite characters who had been absent for too long in the last book. The tension and drama continues, although too many favorite characters meet an untimely demise – I won’t say which ones, but if you’ve read Martin for this long, you know not to get too attached to anyone. I took my time reading this book in between many other novels this year. Who knows how long it will be until the next one? I savored every bloody minute of it.
In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance once again–beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has three times three thousand enemies, and many have set out to find her. Yet, as they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.
To the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone–a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge yet. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.
And from all corners, bitter conflicts soon reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all. . . .
Learn more about George R.R. Martin here.
STOLEN BY THE SEA by Anna Myers
I’m slowly accumulating all of Anna’s books. This is one that she chose for me out of a few she had on hand. I’m so glad I read this one. It was such touching story. And I know it was a difficult and personal story for her to write. I have only wonderful things to say about this book. As always, Anna puts you right into the heart of an historic event and really lets you experience it through diverse and dynamic characters that you care about from the very first page. This story will stay with you long after you put it down.
Maggie McKenna loves the sea. One of the best things about living in Galveston is being able to swim in the gulf and walk along the seashore with her father. Maggie wishes those special times with her father would never end. She knows she’s wrong to be jealous of the new baby that’s coming, but the bad feelings keep building inside her like a threatening storm. She even resents the time her father spends with Felipe, the Mexican boy from the orphanage who does odd jobs around the house.
When her father has to take her mother to Houston to see the doctor, Maggie is left behind to struggle with the jealously that is sweeping away her common sense. But soon she is facing the battle of her life when the very sea she loves, stirred up by one of the most powerful hurricanes of the century, ravages Galveston, destroying homes and lives in a powerful and violent flood. Her only chance at surviving through the night is to join forces with Felipe as they try to ride out the storm together. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Anna Myers here.
Follow Anna on Facebook here.
HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff
I absolutely fell in love with Meg Rosoff after listening to her speak at this year’s SCBWI LA summer conference. She was the first keynote speaker and I can’t think of a better or more irreverent way to start off a conference than with Meg. I firmly believe that her brain works like no one else’s and I wish she could teach mine to work in the way. This story is her first novel and I really enjoyed it. Great characters, intriguing plot, I just raced through the whole book in about a day. I can’t wait to read more of her books.
Fifteen-year-old New Yorker Daisy is sent to live in the English countryside with cousins she’s never even met. When England is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy, the cousins find themselves on their own. Power fails, system fail. As they grow more isolated, the farm becomes a kind of Eden, with no rules. Until the war arrives in their midst.
Daisy’s is a war story, a survival story, a love story—all told in the voice of a subversive and witty teenager. This book crackles with anxiety and with lust. It’s a stunning and unforgettable first novel that captures the essence of the age of terrorism: how we live now. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Meg Rosoff here.
Follow Meg on Twitter here.
SIFTING THROUGH THE MADNESS FOR THE WORD, THE LINE, THE WAY by Charles Bukowski
I wanted to read some of Bukowski’s poems because a poet I admire recommended him. He was such a prolific writer, I didn’t really know where to begin, so I just started with one of the few selections my local bookstore actually had available. That simplified things. This was a collection put together after his death, and it seemed death and endings were heavy on his mind in many of the poems – along with drinking and horse racing. I didn’t much care for many of those poems, although they rang with a true, gritty voice. I did find myself touched by some of the more random poems, especially this one near the end.
nobody but you
nobody can save you but
yourself you will be put again and again
into nearly impossible
they will attempt again and again
through subterfuge, guise and
to make you submit, quit and/or die quietly
nobody can save you but
and it will be easy enough to fail
so very easily
but don’t, don’t, don’t.
just watch them.
listen to them.
do you want to be like that?
a faceless, mindless, heartless
do you want to experience
death before death?
nobody can save you but
and you’re worth saving.
it’s a war not easily won
but if anything is worth winning then
this is it.
think about it.
think about saving yourself.
I have to say, I cried so hard after reading this. It just really hit home with me and where I am right now. I really needed this. This is why poetry is so important. And this is why, despite all of the poems about living in shady hotel rooms and chasing women that I didn’t love, I will read more Bukowsi.
from “neither Shakespeare nor Mickey Spillane”
young young young, only wanting the Word,
going mad in the streets and in the bars,
brutal fights, broken glass, crazy women
your cheap room,
you a familiar guest at the drunk tank, North
Avenue 21, Lincoln Heights
sifting through the madness for the Word, the
hoping for a check from somewhere,
dreaming of a letter from a great editor:
“Chinaski, you don’t know how long we’ve been waiting for you!”
no chance at all. (Poem excerpt from Goodreads description.)
Learn more about Charles Bukowski here.
HEXED by Michelle Krys
This book was written by a lovely writing acquaintance of mine from Canada, whom I’m more than happy to support. This is her debut novel and it was quite a fun read. It got a little slow in the middle, but overall, the pacing was break-neck and the tension was high, just the way I like it. She now has a sequel in works and I’m sure it was be just a wonderful. Congrats, Michelle!
It’s Bring it On meets The Craft in this spellbinding witchy series debut.
If high school is all about social status, Indigo Blackwood has it made. Sure, her quirky mom owns an occult shop, and a nerd just won’t stop trying to be her friend, but Indie is a popular cheerleader with a football-star boyfriend and a social circle powerful enough to ruin everyone at school. Who wouldn’t want to be her?
Then a guy dies right before her eyes. And the dusty old family Bible her mom is freakishly possessive of is stolen. But it’s when a frustratingly sexy stranger named Bishop enters Indie’s world that she learns her destiny involves a lot more than pom-poms and parties. If she doesn’t get the Bible back, every witch on the planet will die. And that’s seriously bad news for Indie, because according to Bishop, she’s a witch too.
Suddenly forced into a centuries-old war between witches and sorcerers, Indie’s about to uncover the many dark truths about her life—and a future unlike any she ever imagined on top of the cheer pyramid. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Michelle Krys here.
Follow Michelle on Twitter here.
Follow Michelle on Facebook here.
Follow Michelle on Tumblr here.
FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell
I’ve waited over a year to read this book! (I loaned my copy to a friend soon after receiving it for my birthday last year and then she moved and it was buried in a box for ages.) All in all, it was well worth the wait. Rowell’s characters are so well-written and so dynamic that they could’ve been people I went to college with. And talk about nostalgia! I was back in my cramped dorm room, reliving those early days with my first roommate within a few chapters. So surreal. Loved this book ALMOST as much as Eleanor & Park. It was really close.
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .
But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Rainbow Rowell here.
Follow Rainbow on Twitter here.
Follow Rainbow on Facebook here.
Follow Rowell’s Tumblr here.
ART & FEAR: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
A close friend recommended this book to me years ago when I was struggling with my craft. I bought it and let it gather dust on my shelf. This year I resolved to delve into the heart of my fears and actually read the book. I’m so glad I did. I wrote a two-part blog post about this subject. The second installment mostly discussed this book here.
Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way. The book’s co-authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, are themselves both working artists, grappling daily with the problems of making art in the real world. Their insights and observations, drawn from personal experience, provide an incisive view into the world of art as it is expeienced by artmakers themselves.
This is not your typical self-help book. This is a book written by artists, for artists -— it’s about what it feels like when artists sit down at their easel or keyboard, in their studio or performance space, trying to do the work they need to do. First published in 1994, Art & Fear quickly became an underground classic. Word-of-mouth response alone—now enhanced by internet posting—has placed it among the best-selling books on artmaking and creativity nationally.
Art & Fear has attracted a remarkably diverse audience, ranging from beginning to accomplished artists in every medium, and including an exceptional concentration among students and teachers. The original Capra Press edition of Art & Fear sold 80,000 copies.
Learn more about David Bayles here.
Learn more about Ted Orland here.
ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein
This is the companion novel to CODE NAME VERITY, which I read last year and loved so, so much. I really enjoyed this story,too, but it didn’t hold quite the intensity and impact that Verity did. This is still a well-written book and well worth the read.
Rose Justice is a young pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. On her way back from a semi-secret flight in the waning days of the war, Rose is captured by the Germans and ends up in Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp. There, she meets an unforgettable group of women, including a once glamorous and celebrated French detective novelist whose Jewish husband and three young sons have been killed; a resilient young girl who was a human guinea pig for Nazi doctors trying to learn how to treat German war wounds; and a Nachthexen, or Night Witch, a female fighter pilot and military ace for the Soviet air force. These damaged women must bond together to help each other survive.
In this companion volume to the critically acclaimed novel Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein continues to explore themes of friendship and loyalty, right and wrong, and unwavering bravery in the face of indescribable evil. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Elizabeth Wein here.
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter here.
Follow Elizabeth on Facebook here.
TUMBLEWEED BABY by Anna Myers
This is a gorgeous picture book by my dear friend, Anna Myers. I did a blog post and interview all about this book here.
A large, loving family in the 1930s Dust Bowl finds a “tumbleweed baby”—a wild baby—in the plains near their cozy farm home. The baby’s new siblings discover the ways she fits and doesn’t fit into the family, ultimately deciding that her wildness makes her one of them. The rhythm and voice of the text make this feel like a classic tall tale, and it pairs perfectly with the dreamy, warm art from master illustrator Charles Vess. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Anna Myers here.
Follow Anna on Facebook here.
LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley
A dear writer friend of mine passed this book along to me from the author’s publicist and asked if I’d like to review it. I had already heard about this book and was actually looking forward to reading it, so I gladly accepted.
I was gripped by the story from the first pages. I could feel the tension of of those black students going through their first day of integration so intently, I don’t think my own muscles unclenched until they were safely home. How any of them made it through an entire week, let alone an entire school year, living with constant fear and torturous conditions is beyond me.
I’ve read a lot about the Civil Rights Movement and I thought I knew about the story of integration, but I’d never really thought about the story from the kids’ perspective. They really held the battle on their shoulders. And Talley weaves such a wonderfully nuanced tale that connects today’s struggle for equality with that of the past, making it just as relevant and just as terrifying. Sarah and Linda’s relationship grows so naturally and painfully that I couldn’t stop reading it. Really an excellent book.
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Robin Talley here.
Follow Robin on Twitter here.
Follow Robin on Facebook here.
Follow Robin on Tumblr here.
DEFIANCE by C.J. Redwine
This was the October Colleen Houck’s Goodreads Book Club selection and another new author to me. This is the first in Redwine’s Defiance trilogy and it looks to be an interesting series. I enjoyed the dual POVs between the male and female lead characters, Logan and Rachel. The strong female character having to camouflage herself, to hide her true nature, her strengths, and train in secret just so she could survive in a male domineering society struck a chord with me. I do live in a very male-domineering, conservative state. (“You didn’t take your husband’s last name? How…odd.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.)
It just makes my skin crawl thinking about trying to adapt to the type of situation the main character lives in. Not being able to move about freely without a male protector? Ugh! I know there are cultures that actually exist where women cannot go out in public without a male relative and that also makes me want to rebel in the worst way. Again, I just think I would have had to go underground in this world or risk being executed for disobedience. Basically, I wouldn’t have survived in that kind of society. Or I would have been leading the revolution. Saudi women defy driving ban, anybody?
Within the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city’s brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses, host dinner parties, and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father’s apprentice, Logan—the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same boy who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but fierce belief in her father’s survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.
At nineteen, Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city’s top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.
As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about C.J. Redwine here.
Follow C.J. on Twitter here.
Follow C.J. on Facebook here.
Follow C.J. on Tumblr here.
ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz
And I still finished it in record time.
Here’s the first passage that stopped me in my tracks:
As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was.
And that was just the writer getting warmed up and talking about the weather. He gets deep and breaks your heart with his words. And you want to thank him for it. This is a book I will read over and over until its pages fall out.
I read this book at the recommendation of a dear writer friend of mine. And now I’m recommending it to you. To everyone who loves great story and words and beautiful characters. You will take this story into your heart and it will never leave you.
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Follow Benjamin on Twitter here.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel García Márquez
This was a very slow read for me, but also a very enjoyable one. It was so rich with character and setting, I wanted to stay with it. I chose this book after hearing Matt de la Peña speak about it. This book was the first book his father ever read and it opened up an avenue for them to share the world of books together. He also said how crazy it was that his dad chose to start off by reading Márquez. “You don’t just start with a book like this.” After he was done, Matt asked him what he thought. His dad said he liked it. And that was all. He then asked him for another book. That piqued my interest and this book sounded like a challenge. It was and I thoroughly enjoyed the read.
One of the 20th century’s enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement of a Nobel Prize winning career.
The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.
Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility — the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth — these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel Garcia Marquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.
Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Gabriel Garcia Màrquez here.
SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut
This is another book I read, or rather listened to, for my observance of Banned Book Week, this year. I actually read this book years ago while in high school. It was lying around the house and had a catchy title. I’m not sure how much I remembered about the book, except how it ended. I remembered how odd it was that an author would tell you in the beginning of a book how the story would end. I was so curious that I did turn to the back of the book right then to see if it did indeed end with “Poo-tee-weet”. This time around, I still found it jumbled and jarring, but a little more profound. It’s Vonnegut. What else is there to say?
Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
Don’t let the ease of reading fool you – Vonnegut’s isn’t a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, “There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”
Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut’s most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author’s experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut’s other works, but the book’s basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy – and humor. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Kurt Vonnegut here.
EARTHBOUND and EARTHQUAKE by Aprilynne Pike
The second book in this series was the selected book for September for Colleen Houck’s Goodreads Book Club, but I could’t just start with book 2, that would be crazy. Who does that?
Obviously not me. I really enjoyed the first book and found the premise of reincarnation of gods who must reawaken their memories from their past lives and then reunite with their soulmates to regain their true strength quite exciting – especially what if you don’t want to keep being a goddess who reincarnate with the same soulmate? What if you want to break the rules? Very complex ideology; a book you can really dig deep into your brain and blow your mind about. Although I thought the second book waned a little in the middle, it definitely picked up steam near the end. I look forward to the third installment.
Plot Summary for EARTHBOUND:
Tavia Michaels is the sole survivor of the plane crash that killed her parents. When she starts to see strange visions of a boy she’s never spoken with in real life, she begins to suspect that there’s much about her past that she isn’t being told. Tavia will soon to discover that she alone holds the key to stopping the Reduciata, an evil society that manipulates global events for its own shadowy purposes. But Tavia must make a choice: to come into her own powers and save the world from the evil Reduciata, or choose free will and a love of her own. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Plot Summary for EARTHQUAKE:
Tavia Michaels has discovered that she’s an Earthbound–a fallen goddess with the power to create matter from nothing–and that the Reduciata will stop at nothing to control her and her power. Captured and imprisoned along with her eternal lover, Logan, huddled in a claustrophobic cell, they lose track of the days, their attempts to escape proving as ephemeral as Tavia’s newly gestating powers.
But then Tavia and Logan are mysteriously rescued–and what they do next will determine not only the fate of their love, but also the fate of the world…(Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Aprilynne Pike here.
Follow Aprilynne on Twitter here.
Follow Aprilynne on Facebook here.
JOURNEY and QUEST by Aaron Becker
Aaron Becker was one of the keynote speakers at this yea’s SCBWI LA summer conference. I happened by his books in a store and showed them to my son. We read through JOURNEY, or rather viewed the beautiful wordless picture book in quiet reverence. My son was entranced. He then wanted to view the second book, QUEST. And then he insisted we take it home with us. Journey reminded me of HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON meets THE WIZARD OF OZ. QUEST just took that world a step further. I was just as enchanted by the gorgeous illustrations and the lovely storylines as my son was.
Becker has a Facebook page, entitled the Journey Trilogy, so it would seem there will be one more of these beautiful books. This page also shows some of his artistic process and how he works from his own models to create the otherworldly landscapes on his pages.
A 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, Journey, follows the adventures of a young girl who escapes the boredom of home to find a magical realm – in which she can control her destiny with her imagination. A Junior Library Guild Selection.
Plot Summary for QUEST:
Quest is the second book in the wordless picture book trilogy that began with the 2014 Caldecott Honor Book Journey. The adventure continues as the girl, the boy, and their purple bird companion make their way back into the enchanted realm behind the red door. They discover that there’s more to this land than they imagined – and they’re more a part of its mythology than they could have dreamed.
Learn more about Aaron Becker here.
Follow Aaron on Facebook here.
Follow Aaron on Twitter here.
THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS (Captain Underpants #1) by Dav Pilkey
I read this as part of my observance of Banned Book Week, as this was the book that made it to the top of the list. Surprised? So was I. I couldn’t see what was so censor-worthy about this graphic novel, especially one that has encouraged so many reluctant readers TO READ! Here are some notes from the author’s website about this series:
This book is based on a superhero that Dav Pilkey invented way back in 1973 when he was a second-grader. The comics that Dav made were very much like the comic book that George and Harold sell on the playground in Chapter 3.
When I began making children’s books in 1986, my goal was to one day make a book about Captain Underpants. I wrote several different versions of this story, including a 48-page comic book, but every publisher who saw it turned it down. When the book was finally accepted in 1996, it was a real dream come true! — Dav Pilkey
Many of the things in the book are taken directly from Dav’s childhood: the practical jokes, the comics, even the cheesy animation technique called “Flip-O-Rama” (Dav and his friends used to amuse themselves by making these flip-action animated pictures in elementary school).
Dav Pilkey had dyslexia when he was a kid. He was always discouraged by wordy texts, small type, and lengthy chapters.
My goal with The Adventures of Captain Underpants was to make a chapter book that SEEMED like a picture book. So I wrote incredibly short chapters and tried to fill each page with more pictures than words. I wanted to create a book that kids who don’t like to read would want to read. — Dav Pilkey
That’s an admirable goal and great reason to create such a relatable series for kids. I happen to know that these books DO inspire kids to create their own comics and stories. I honestly don’t see this as a bad thing that should be censored.
Here’s the actually plot summary for the first book:
Meet George and Harold, a couple of wise guys. The only thing they enjoy more than playing practical jokes is creating their own comic books. Together they have created the greatest comic-book superhero in the history of their elementary school – CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS! But George and Harold’s principal, mean old Mr. Krupp, doesn’t like their pranks OR their comic books. He’s cooked up a plan to catch George and Harold and stop their shenanigans – once and for all! This book is about what happened when that plan backfired, and Captain Underpants leaped off the page to save the day! (Plot summary from author’s website.)
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THE THREE SNOW BEARS by Jan Brett
Retellings are very popular right now, but they are nothing new. On a recent trip to the library, my son picked up this book, and begged to bring it home. We read it through over and over. It is a beautiful and creative retelling of the Goldilocks story, set in Alaska with polar bears and a curious native Inuit girl named Aloo-ki in the main character role. The author traveled to Alaska to research this book. You can find details about her research and fun activities to go along with the story on the author’s website, listed below.
The Goldilocks story takes a fine twist when an endearing snow bear family and a curious Inuit girl meet center stage in Jan Brett’s stunning paintings of a land where the Inuits and the animals share the amazing Arctic landscape.
When Aloo-ki loses her sled dogs, her search for them leads her to an igloo. She can’t resist peeking inside…and then she can’t resist the smell of something delicious…
While Aloo-ki is making herself at home, Papa, Mama and Baby Bear are out walking, waiting for their breakfast to cool off…and who do you think they find?
In the borders, playful Arctic animals in parkas inspired by original Inuit designs have a mischievous time as the lively story bounces back and forth between the snow bears and Aloo-ki until they come face-to-face.
Learn more about Jan Brett here.
Follow Jan on Facebook here.
Follow Jan on Twitter here.
THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES: THE SECRET TO LOVE THAT LASTS by Gary Chapman
I read this book at the suggestion of my therapist. I had some profound philosophical issues with some of the author’s approaches, especially the idea that you have to keep trying – no matter what – to fulfill the other person’s need for love. (I know, right?) But if I didn’t take it too seriously, I understood the overall ideas. It was okay. I am not one who reads many self-help books. I made an exception here and after reading this book, I remembered why I don’t often read them. If you are one who enjoys self-help books or finds them helpful, maybe you will find this one of value.
Couples who understand each other’s love language hold a priceless advantage in the quest for love that lasts a lifetime — they know how to effectively and consistently make each other feel truly and deeply loved. That gift never fades away. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Gary Chapman here.
YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME: STORIES AND POEMS ABOUT BOYS by Sharon Flake
I heard Sharon Blake speak during the SCBWI LA conference and she was fantastic. This was one of the few books left to get signed so I snatched it up. She was a delight to meet. So warm and thoughtful. This was my first conference read after I returned home. And I definitely want to read more from her. There is a companion book, WHO AM I WITHOUT HIM: SHORT STORIES ABOUT GIRLS AND THE BOYS IN THEIR LIVES and then there is her first book, THE SKIN I’M IN, that won several awards, that I’d love to read.
This book was great. The perspective was at times, funny, sad, angry, awkward, and complicated, just like a young teen boy is. This isn’t just a good book for boys to read, it’s for anyone who enjoys good characters that will touch you.
They fall in love, plot revenge, seek to be understood. They sit in class, show their colors, date your daughter and dream of making it big. But do you know them, these brazen, brilliant, bold young men walking among us? In my new novel, young men celebrate love, mentor younger boys, wrestle with HIV and contemplate suicide. They dodge adults, brag about becoming president and wonder if they’ll be alive in the morning. Boys: Do we know ‘em? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Sharon Flake here.
Follow Sharon on Twitter here.
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OH. MY. GODS by Tera Lynn Childs
Another wunderbar book club pick. You have to appreciate the cover art. Though this one brought back barely veiled trauma-esque (new word? I’m going with it) memories from my elementary days and life with my crazy first step-mom, the health nut in love with the 80s running craze, so we became a family of runners. (Seriously, if I had time to spin the tales, you’d agree to her level of insanity.)
Memories of waking up at the crack of dawn before school so I could go jogging. Memories of weekends with the family, taking road trips out of town before sunrise to run races while my friends slept in and watched cartoons. Once I got past these, I found the story charming and delighted in the main character actually enjoying the act of running – I did remember the sense of accomplishment and the runner’s high – although the story didn’t hold that many surprises as far as the plot was concerned, it was entertaining and I did care about the characters. I am enjoying the recurring theme of strong female characters in the book selections, even in the romantic selections. And a story set in Greece is always a fun read.
What If The Greek Gods Were More Than Myth?
If Phoebe Castro can keep her grades up and have another stellar cross-country season, her dream of attending USC with her best friends is only a track scholarship away. She’s made all her plans, so it’s a complete shock when her mom announces she’s marrying a mysterious stranger and moving them half-way around the world—to Greece.
What If Their Descendants Lived Among Us?
Phoebe’s stuck on a secret island in the Aegean attending the super-exclusive Academy, where her new stepfather is the headmaster and the kids are anything but your average students—they are descendants of the Greek gods, super powers included. That’s right, Greek gods are no myth! If Phoebe thought high school was hard, she knows this is going to be mortal misery.
What If You Had To Go To High School With Them?
Securing that scholarship seems like Phoebe’s only ticket out of Greece, but training and maintaining her grades will be grueling, even without a sabotaging stepsister from Hades and a gorgeous guy—what a god!—who just might be her Achilles heel. One thing is for sure—summoning the will to win and find her place among the gods could be Phoebe’s toughest course yet.
In Oh. My. Gods. the Greek gods get a makeover in this romantic odyssey of mythic proportion. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Tera Lynn Childs here.
Follow Tera on Twitter here.
Follow Tera on Facebook here.
REALITY BOY by A.S. King
This book is one of my greatest treasures – and not just because it is inscribed to me by the phenomenal A.S. King herself. (Okay, that doesn’t hurt – *hugs book tighter*) I just love her writing so much. It’s honest and raw. I want to call this one ‘The Anger Book’ because it lets you really get down and dirty with feeling all kinds of angry. And understanding where your anger really comes from – that lack of caring, the seeing-but-not-seeing adults who let things happen, the neglect, the injustices that were done when you were too young to be in control of your destiny. The main character, Gerald, taps right into it all and lets us live vicariously through him as he slowly starts to find his voice and make demands for a new life. Enpowerment on the page. Dig it.
Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.
Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.
In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about A.S. King here.
Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.
CARNIVORES by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat
I first heard about this book from the editor when she came to our spring conference. It sounded funny and intriguing, but her description did not even do this fantastic book justice. I snagged this from a fellow writer on the plane ride to LA because I was dying to read it. I laughed out loud and didn’t even care. Dan Santat’s illustrations are stupendous and make the witty text so much funnier with his visual jokes. This is a book you will read over and over until the cover falls apart.
The lion is king of the jungle!
The great white shark is sovereign of the seas!
The timber wolf is emperor of the forests!
But . . . it’s lonely at the top of the food chain. It’s difficult to fit in when plant eaters can be so cruel—just because you ate a relative of theirs that one time! What’s a carnivore to do? Aaron Reynolds’s roaringly funny text is perfectly paired with Dan Santat’s mouthwatering illustrations, creating a toothsome book that’s sure to stand out from the herd. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Aaron Reynolds here.
Learn more about Dan Santat here.
THE COCKOO’S CALLING by Robert Galbraith
This is the first mystery novel written by J.K. Rowling under her pseudonym. I for one, love a good mystery, so I finally decided to give it a go – even after my experience with her first adult novel. And I’m glad I did. This was a much better experience with Rowling back to doing what she does well – telling a great story.
When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.
Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s complex world, the darker things get – and the closer he gets to terrible danger . . .
A gripping, elegant mystery steeped in the atmosphere of London – from the hushed streets of Mayfair to the backstreet pubs of the East End to the bustle of Soho – The Cuckoo’s Calling is a remarkable book. Introducing Cormoran Strike, this is the acclaimed first crime novel from Robert Galbraith. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Robert Galbraith here.
Follow Robert on Twitter here.
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(I’m sure you know how to find J.K. Rowling, but here’s her other main site, just in case, here.)
THE PLEDGE by Kimberly Derting
This was my online book club selection for July. Another first-time reading experience for me. I’m getting to know several new authors this way – such great exposure. Although I’d never heard of this author or this book before, I was intrigued by the story’s concept. Segregating people by the use of different languages for each of the classes. What a concept. I also liked the idea of a female-based ruling society. This is the first book in a series. I’m interested enough in this first one to want to see where this continues.
In the violent country of Ludania, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. The smallest transgression, like looking a member of a higher class in the eye while they are speaking their native tongue, results in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina has always been able to understand the languages of all classes, and she’s spent her life trying to hide her secret. The only place she can really be free is the drug-fueled underground clubs where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. It’s there that she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Max who speaks a language she’s never heard before . . . and her secret is almost exposed.
Charlie is intensely attracted to Max, even though she can’t be sure where his real loyalties lie. As the emergency drills give way to real crisis and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger: her country’s only chance for freedom from the terrible power of a deadly regime. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Kimberly Derting here.
Follow Kimberly on Facebook here.
Follow Kimberly on Twitter here.
THE GRISHA SERIES (Books 1-3) by Leigh Bardugo
I’d seen so many writer friends geeking out about this series, so I finally broke down and read this onto see what all the fuss was about…and found myself finished with it in the briefest time span of one week. And the wishing there were more. Such a fascinating exploration into the darkness and light in all of us and what we’ll sacrifice for power and what we won’t. All of the layers and depths of character, ah! Just loved it. Bardugo created such an unusual world, and yet so believable. And this was one very satisfying conclusion to a trilogy – not overdone, not pandering. Perfect.
Plot Summary of SHADOW AND BONE:
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.
Plot Summary of SIEGE AND STORM:
Darkness never dies.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
Plot Summary of RUIN AND RISING:
The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
(Plot summaries from author’s website.)
Learn more about Leigh Bardugo here.
Follow Leigh on Twitter here.
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HIS FAIR ASSASSIN SERIES (Books 1-3) by Robin LaFevers
A fellow writer had reviewed this book and she had me at the words assassin nuns. Then I saw the gorgeous cover. That’s no damsel in distress with a mighty crossbow, oh, no! Medieval women kicking ass? Love it! And can I say, it’s about damn time! Where has this book been all my life? So, so glad LaFevers came up with this idea. Now I know what I can go as if I ever find myself at a medieval fair. Don’t worry, fair lads in distress, there are damsels about wielding mighty weapons with skill who can protect your honor.
Plot Summary for GRAVE MERCY:
Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart
Plot Summary for DARK TRIUMPH:
Vengeance is divine.
Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. The convent views Sybella, naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?
Plot summary for MORTAL HEART:
Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own.
But across Brittany, the tides of war are drawing ever nearer, with France pressuring the beleaguered duchess from all sides. Annith’s search for answers threatens to rip open an intricate web of lies and deceit that sit at the heart of the convent she serves. Yet to expose them threatens the very fabric of her existence and risks an unforeseen chance at love, one that she can no longer deny. Annith must carefully pick a path and, gods willing, effect a miracle that will see her country—and her heart—to safety. (All plot summaries from author’s website.)
What a great conclusion to this trilogy! I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a fantastic medieval adventure with a bit of romance on the side.
Learn more about Robin LaFevers here.
Follow Robin on Twitter here.
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THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson
Author Kate Messner recommended this book to everyone on the planet during the awesome #weneeddiversebooks campaign. She wanted us to all put up (and not even shut up) and help make this book a bestseller, not just because it was written by a minority author, but because it’s brilliant.
After beginning on page one on a road trip and finishing it before I reached my destination, I can attest to the fantasticness of Johnson’s storytelling. Man! I so wish I could’ve gone to school with a kid like Jackson Greene. Or if I were a kid right now reading this book, I would get into all kinds of mischief plotting my own Jackson-like schemes. I loved, loved, loved this character. I so hope Johnson gets to write more Greene adventures. i will read every one of them.
Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz…. But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.
Then Keith Sinclair — loser of the Blitz — announces he’s running for school president, against Jackson’s former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn’t talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won’t welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.
So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn’t the only thing he wants to win. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn mores about Varian Johnson here.
Follow Varian on Twitter here.
Follow Varian on Facebook here.
WONDER by R.J. Palacio
I’ve had this book on my radar for a long, long, time. I’ve even had it in my TBR pile more than once. I gave it away at a Christmas party for a dirty Santa gift when I hadn’t had a chance to get to the store. Just meant I had to buy another copy and wait longer to read it. I guess I wasn’t quite ready for it. But this was the year. I’m glad i finally did read it. The story resonated a little too close to home at times and there were some tears shed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mostly they were during the chapters told from the sister’s point of view, oddly enough. I think I was thinking of my daughter and how she could relate to this experience. Anyway, there were just as many moments of laughter as tears and the overall emotion was of hope, so it was a good read. And well worth sharing with everyone who needs to experience some empathy for anyone who’s different – not just on the outside.
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about R.J. Palacio here.
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GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL by Barbara Lowell, Illustrated by Jerry Hoare
This was my lovely critique partner, Barbara Lowell’s, first published book and I was so happy to have been a small part of the creative process. I’ve seen so many drafts of this story that to actually hold the finalized, finished product, complete with perfect illustrations and actual photos from the assembling of the wheel, in my hand, well, it was just such a thrill. I love, love, love this book, but as I may have indicated, I’m a wee bit biased here. I do think it’s well-designed and well-written and anyone with any interest in this subject can’t go wrong with this book. READ IT! You won’t be sorry.
Have you ever ridden a Ferris wheel? You go up, up, up and can see for miles! But when the inventor of the Ferris wheel, George Ferris, first pitched the idea, everyone thought he was crazy. A 250-foot bicycle wheel that goes around and around and carries people in train cars? Can’t be done, they said. But George proved them wrong. Read about how George’s hard work, courage, and imagination created one of the most famous fair rides today.
George Ferris, What a Wheel covers the concepts Imagination and Problem Solving. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.
AFTER THE END by Amy Plum
A dystopian novel that turns out NOT to be a dystopian novel? What a great twist. This was the second selection for my online book club and I thought it was fantastic. I ad not read anything by Amy Plum before so i didn’t know what to expect. Great characters, great story. Challenging philosophical discussions encouraging readers to QUESTION EVERYTHING and come to their own conclusions about what they believe was a much needed dialogue. LOVED the dynamic between the two main characters. I don’t want to give anything away, so that’s all I’m going to say. After I read this, I totally couldn’t stop talking about it to my daughter, who totally couldn’t stop listening to me talk about it and still wants to read the book.
You should, too. Although, fair warning, it does end on a cliff hanger. Book Two comes out in March 2015. NOT SOON ENOUGH!
World War III has left the world ravaged by nuclear radiation. A lucky few escaped to the Alaskan wilderness.
They′ve survived for the last thirty years by living off the land, being one with nature, and hiding from whoever else might still be out there.
At least, this is what Juneau has been told her entire life.
When Juneau returns from a hunting trip to discover that everyone in her clan has vanished, she sets off to find them. Leaving the boundaries of their land for the very first time, she learns something horrifying: There never was a war. Cities were never destroyed. The world is intact.
Everything was a lie.
Now Juneau is adrift in a modern-day world she never knew existed. But while she’s trying to find a way to rescue her friends and family, someone else is looking for her. Someone who knows the extraordinary truth about the secrets of her past. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Amy Plum here.
Follow Amy on Twitter here.
CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE (Book 6 in Mortal Instruments Series) by Cassandra Clare
I was more than satisfied with this final installment of the series. The last book had me a little worried, but Clare let out all the stops and left nothing out in this final book. She even left the window cracked for some new characters to take off with a new series in the same world so we don’t have to get all weepy at the total loss of the series. Smart cookies that Ms Clare. Still, it’s sad to say goodbye to some of the most interesting and dynamic cast of characters I’ve read in awhile. Maybe we haven’t seen the last of all of them, eh, Magnus? (I certainly hope not.)
In this dazzling and long-awaited conclusion to the acclaimed Mortal Instruments series, Clary and her friends fight the greatest evil they have ever faced: Clary’s own brother.
Sebastian Morgenstern is on the move, systematically turning Shadowhunter against Shadowhunter. Bearing the Infernal Cup, he transforms Shadowhunters into creatures out of nightmare, tearing apart families and lovers as the ranks of his Endarkened army swell.
The embattled Shadowhunters withdraw to Idris – but not even the famed demon towers of Alicante can keep Sebastian at bay. And with the Nephilim trapped in Idris, who will guard the world against demons?
When one of the greatest betrayals the Nephilim have ever known is revealed, Clary, Jace, Isabelle, Simon, and Alec must flee – even if their journey takes them deep into the demon realms, where no Shadowhunter has set foot before, and from which no human being has ever returned…
Love will be sacrificed and lives lost in the terrible battle for the fate of the word in the thrilling final installment of the classic urban fantasy series The Mortal Instruments! (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Cassandra Clare here.
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VADER’S LITTLE PRINCESS (Jeffrey Brown’s Star Wars) by Jeffrey Brown
In this irresistibly funny follow-up to the breakout bestseller Darth Vader and Son, Vader–Sith Lord and leader of the Galactic Empire–now faces the trials, joys, and mood swings of raising his daughter Leia as she grows from a sweet little girl into a rebellious teenager.
Smart and funny illustrations by artist Jeffrey Brown give classic Star Wars moments a twist by bringing these iconic family relations together under one roof. From tea parties to teaching Leia how to fly a TIE fighter, regulating the time she spends talking with friends via R2-D2’s hologram, and making sure Leia doesn’t leave the house wearing only a skirted metal bikini, Vader’s parenting skills are put hilariously to the test. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Jeffrey Brown here.
THE POISONED HOUSE by Michael Ford
I’m not sure where I came across this little gem. A little reminiscent of an Agatha Christie tale with a ghostly bent. I enjoyed the creepiness and the mystery bit. Nice eery read for a rainy day in front of a fire.
Abi is a servant in Greave Hall, a stately London home. She runs away, but is soon recaptured, to suffer once more under the tyrannical rule of Mrs Cotton, the housekeeper. The house, though, has a dark secret. Something ghostly inhabits the corridors, leading Abi to the very truth someone has tried so hard to bury. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Michael Ford here.
THE SHADOW PRINCE by Bree Despain
I read this book as the first selection from my new online book club. I’m not sure I would have picked this book on my own, just browsing through a bookstore, so I’m glad that it came my way. Sort of the point of me joining the book club, really. This modern re-telling of the Persephone myth, with a few twists, was really well done. I enjoyed Daphne’s character as a strong female who didn’t just automatically fall head over heels for the male lead. She had her own goals and plans that needed attention. During our book club discussion I was surprised how many others felt at odds with her character for just this reason, and yet they still loved the book. Great discussion, great story. I look forward to reading more about these characters.
Haden Lord, the disgraced prince of the Underrealm, has been sent to the mortal world to entice a girl into returning with him to the land of the dead. Posing as a student at Olympus Hills High—a haven for children of the rich and famous—Haden must single out the one girl rumored to be able to restore immortality to his race.
Daphne Raines has dreams much bigger than her tiny southern Utah town, so when her rock star dad suddenly reappears, offering her full tuition to Olympus Hills High’s prestigious music program, she sees an opportunity to catch the break she needs to make it as a singer. But upon moving into her estranged father’s mansion in California, and attending her glamorous new school, Daphne soon realizes she isn’t the only student in Olympus who doesn’t quite belong.
Haden and Daphne—destined for each other—know nothing of the true stakes their fated courtship entails. As war between the gods brews, the teenagers’ lives collide. But Daphne won’t be wooed easily and when it seems their prophesied link could happen, Haden realizes something he never intended—he’s fallen in love. Now to save themselves, Haden and Daphne must rewrite their destinies. But as their destinies change, so do the fates of both their worlds.
A pulsating romance of epic proportions, Bree Despain’s The Shadow Prince will leave her fans breathless for the next book in the Into The Dark series. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Bree Despain here.
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THE LUNAR CHRONICLES (Books 1-3) by Marissa Meyer
This was a fun and smart re-invisioning of the story of Cinderella. I loved the changes Meyer made to the original, especially giving Cinder a close connection within her adoptive family. The close bond she shares with her youngest step-sister is tender and painful, especially when that relationship is tested and threatened. Meyer is so creative in how she weaves the classic aspects into this new, futuristic world. The characters are well worth rooting for. This is a kick-ass female lead that we should see more of. I really enjoyed the entire series and I read through it quickly. I look forward to the next installment.
Plot Summary for CINDER:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless Lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Plot Summary for SCARLET:
Cinder returns in the second thrilling installment of the New York Times-bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.
Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother and the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she has no choice but to trust him, though he clearly has a few dark secrets of his own.
As Scarlet and Wolf work to unravel one mystery, they find another when they cross paths with Cinder. Together, they must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen who will do anything to make Prince Kai her husband, her king, her prisoner. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Plot Summary for CRESS:
In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth.
Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker unfortunately, she’s being forced to work for Queen Levana, and she’s just received orders to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.
When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is splintered. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a higher price than she’d ever expected. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai, especially the cyborg mechanic. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Marissa Meyer here.
Follow Marissa on Twitter here.
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COUNTING BY 7S by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Having a story about a child on the autism spectrum that has been clamored about so much, I was really looking forward to reading this book. Although it was a decent story and I did love Willow as a beautiful character, some of the problems were solved a little too easily and too quickly for my tastes. Overall it was a nice book and I did enjoy it, however it fell a little short of my rather high expectations. I do think most readers will love the characters and it is worth reading.
Counting By 7s is the story of Willow Chance, a twelve-year old girl who has been identified at an early age as ‘gifted’. Willow lives in Bakersfield, California and comes home from school one day to the news that her parents have been killed in a traffic accident.
What follows is Willow’s search to find a place where she belongs.
In equal parts an exploration of the pain of loss and of the triumph of moving forward, the novel looks at how one person can change the lives of many, often without even trying. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Holly Goldberg Sloan here.
Follow Holly on Twitter here.
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THE DREAM THIEVES and BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE (Books 2 & 3 in the Raven Cycle) by Maggie Stiefvater
This is such a unique tale, it’s hard to describe. I really loved the first book and tore through it so fast, I thought I’d do the same for all of the books. However, this one took me longer to get into. I think it might have been because of all the different viewpoints. The first book was really focused on Blue’s character and her POV and I think I missed that. This book was good, though, and in the end, it won me over.
The next installment was completely different. I fell right in love with it and raced through it in no time. Waiting a year for the conclusion will probably kill me.
Synopsis from Book One, THE RAVEN BOYS:
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her. His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Gansey is different. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been told by her psychic family that she will kill her true love. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
Synopsis from Book Two, THE DREAM THIEVES:
Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…
Synopsis from Book Three, BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE:
Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.
Learn more about Maggie Stiefvater here.
View Raven Cycle series own website here.
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THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE: THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND by Dan Santat
This magical story begins on an island far away where an imaginary friend is born. He patiently waits his turn to be chosen by a real child, but when he is overlooked time and again, he sets off on an incredible journey to the bustling city, where he finally meets his perfect match and-at long last-is given his special name: Beekle.
New York Times bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator Dan Santat combines classic storytelling with breathtaking art, creating an unforgettable tale about friendship, imagination, and the courage to find one’s place in the world. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Dan Santat here.
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THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH by Mo Willems
I just love all of the Pigeon books and this one is way overdue. Even Pigeon says so one the website. (He can be a little impatient.) I learned recently at our conference that this style of book is actually considered a graphic novel. Who knew? So maybe I could read it in a coffee shop and look hip. Or maybe not. Whatevs. I read what I like. And this I like.
The Pigeon needs a bath! Except, the Pigeon’s not so sure about that. Besides, he took a bath last month! Maybe. It’s going to take some serious convincing to get the Pigeon to take the plunge. (Plot summary from the Pigeon’s Website.)
Learn more about Mo Willems here.
Follow The Pigeon’s Tweets here.
Learn all about the Pigeon Books here.
OKLAHOMA POEMS…AND THEIR POETS edited by Nathan Brown
I read this as part of my need to expand my poetry education and to support my fellow Oklahoma writers. Our Oklahoma Poet Laureate put this fantastic collection together in a very thoughtful manner, including some of the best and brightest of our own Oklahoma poets.
An anthology edited by Nathan Brown, the 2013 – 2014 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma. It includes poems “about” Oklahoma that are written by natives, ex-pats, and visitors alike. These poems are an honest, and sometimes raw, look at the state’s past and present by way of three chapters titled: People, Places, and Odds & Ends. Among the poets represented are Pulitzer winners Stephen Dunn and N. Scott Momaday, as well as Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo, George Bilgere, Ron Padgett, and many others.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Reading this brought me back to my childhood memories and reconnected me to the people of this state. I did a more thorough review of this book here.
Another great thing about this collection is that the proceeds benefit the Oklahoma Humanities Council. Very cool.
Learn more about Nathan Brown here.
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LOST SUN by Tessa Gratton
I won this book in a blog contest giveaway. It was actually my first ebook win, too Woohoo! I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading a book by Ms Gratton before, so this book was one of those total surprises. I just opened it up and gave it a shot. It was amazing! The mix of gods functioning within the present day context struck just the right balance to be fascinating and believable. The characters at the center – what fantastic emotional connection! The whole struggle Soren goes through with suppressing his berserker rage to avoid the fate of his father and Astrid tempting him to give in to it – ah! Loved, loved, loved this!
Haunted by unpredictable berserker rage, he distances himself from other students at school.
A prophet by blood, she dreams the weave of fate and sees Soren changing the futures.
BALDUR THE BEAUTIFUL
The most popular god in the States disappears in front of TV cameras, and the country erupts in chaos.
THE DESTINY IS SET.
Astrid and Soren must save Baldur. But in saving a god, will Soren destroy himself… and everything he holds dear? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Tessa Gratton here.
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HAMSTER AND CHEESE by Colleen AF Venable
Colleen was one of the lovely speakers at our SCBWI OK spring conference this year and she just happens to be an accomplished author in her own right. When not wearing her art and design editor’s hat at First Second Books, she’s writing amazing graphic novels of her own. This is the first in her Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye graphic novel series. When she told me that she purposely chose to show her female guinea pig without outrageous flares like pronounced eyelashes or giant hair bows to indicate that she was a female because “guinea pigs don’t look like that in nature” I knew I would love her books. And I did. Funny and captivating and mysterious as a detective tale should be. This was an awesome story.
There is a sandwich thief in Mr. Venezi’s pet shop, and everyone is a suspect—from the chinchillas to the goldfish. Never fear! The world’s fluffiest detective is on the case: Sasspants, PI(G). By day, Sasspants is your average book–loving, gizmo–inventing guinea pig. By night, she solves pet shop mysteries with the help of her sidekick, Hamisher the hamster. Our furry little heroes will stop by nothing to find the sandwich thief! (Plot summary form Barnes and Noble website.)
Seriously, after a plot summary like that, how can you resist?
Learn more about Colleen here.
Follow Colleen on Twitter here.
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman
“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.”
It’s not often that a middle grade begins with the homicide of an entire family, save the youngest member, a toddler who escapes by mere chance. Why he and his family were targeted is the great mystery and what fantastical things it leads to are just the beginning of the story of the boy who is destined to straddle the line between worlds. It’s a great tale.
Bod is an unusual boy who inhabits an unusual place-he’s the only living resident of a graveyard. Raised from infancy by the ghosts, werewolves, and other cemetery denizens, Bod has learned the antiquated customs of his guardians’ time as well as their timely ghostly teachings-like the ability to Fade. Can a boy raised by ghosts face the wonders and terrors of the worlds of both the living and the dead? And then there are things like ghouls that aren’t really one thing or the other. This chilling tale is Neil Gaiman’s first full-length novel for middle-grade readers since the internationally bestselling and universally acclaimed Coraline. Like Coraline, this book is sure to enchant and surprise young readers as well as Neil Gaiman’s legion of adult fans. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Neil Gaiman here.
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INFINITE by Jodi Meadows
This was a well-rounded and satisfying conclusion to the INCARNATE trilogy. I’m sad to see it end. This was one of the first books I found purely by Twitter friends’ praise and the blogosphere word of mouth. It’s a lovely perk of my growing online community of writer friends, this constant growing list of lovely books I never would have found without them.
The Year of Souls begins with an earthquake—an alarming rumble from deep within the earth—and it’s only the first of greater dangers to come. The Range caldera is preparing to erupt. Ana knows that as Soul Night approaches, everything near Heart will be at risk.
Ana’s exile is frightening, but it may also be fortuitous, especially if she can convince her friends to flee Heart and Range with her. They’ll go north, seeking answers and allies to stop Janan’s ascension. And with any luck, the newsouls will be safe from harm’s reach.
The oldsouls might have forgotten the choice they made to give themselves limitless lifetimes, but Ana knows the true cost of reincarnation. What she doesn’t know is whether she’ll have the chance to finish this one sweet life with Sam, especially if she returns to Heart to stop Janan once and for all.
With gorgeous romance and thrilling action, the final book in the Incarnate trilogy offers a brilliant conclusion to the compelling questions of this fascinating world, where one new girl is the key to the lives of millions. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Jodi Meadows here.
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LET IT SNOW: THREE HOLIDAY ROMANCES by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
I am not one who usually gravitates towards romance novels, but I do love the three authors that co-wrote this book. This was also the only thing by John Green I hadn’t read, so I felt obligated to give it a try. I’m glad I did.
This book of three short stories was unusual in that all of the stories stand alone on their own, and yet weave together to tell a much bigger, richer tale about a small town hit by a winter storm and tragedies of the heart. These master story tellers keep you entertained while warming your heart in the midst of the freezing cold. It was a nice break from all my serious reading I’ve been doing. Don’t let that make you think for a minute the stories aren’t well-written or lacking substance, they have the goods as well. It was just nice for things to end on a positive note for a change.
An ill-timed storm on Christmas Eve
buries the residents of Gracetown under multiple feet of snow and causes quite a bit of chaos. One brave soul ventures out into the storm from her stranded train and sets off a chain of events that will change quite a few lives. Over the next three days one girl takes a risky shortcut with an adorable stranger, three friends set out to win a race to the Waffle House ( and the hash brown spoils), and the fate of a teacup pig falls into the hands of a lovesick barista.
A trio of today’s bestselling authors – John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle- brings all the magic of the holidays to life in three hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and kisses that will steal your breath away. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about John Green here.
Learn more about Maureen Johnson here.
Learn more about Lauren Myracle here.
WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson
I love Laurie Halse Anderson. She is a fearless author who writes emotion so beautifully. I first read her novel SPEAK years ago and I still can’t get that book out of my head. I heard Anderson speak for the first time last summer in LA and got to tell her how awesome she was in person. She signed this copy of WINTERGIRLS to me simply “Be Brave”. And yet, isn’t that one of the hardest things to be? Her keynote speech was one of the best of the conference and I was so inspired by her, I can’t even tell you. On top of that, she writes this story like she herself suffered through anorexia and had the words of a poet to make the reader know exactly what it feels like to be at war with your own body and to not be able to see yourself as you truly are. She has woven eating disorder pathology and effortless character voice masterfully into a story you just can’t put down.
“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secrets,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.
Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether.
In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl’s chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.
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THE GODS OF SECOND CHANCES by Dan Berne
I met the editor of this book, Laura Stanfill, out in the blogosphere while we were both mutually admiring each others blogs. I found her just delightful and followed her progress as she bravely ventured out to start her own publishing house, Forest Avenue Press. This book is their first fiction release and I am delighted be have read one of the Advanced Reader copies. This book was well chosen. The writing is solid and the pacing moves the story along well. Author Dan Berne brings the Alaskan scenery to life effortlessly as he weaves the tale of this broken family trying to reunite, missing one of its members, and struggling to fit the pieces back together.
Family means everything to widowed Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft, raising his granddaughter while battling storms, invasive species, and lawsuit happy tourists. To navigate, and to catch enough crab to feed her college fund, Ray seeks help from a multitude of gods and goddesses – not to mention ad-libbed rituals performed at sea by his half-Tlingit best friend.
But kitchen counter statues and otter bone ceremonies aren’t enough when his estranged daughter returns from prison, swearing she’s clean and sober. Her search for a safe harbor threatens everything Ray holds sacred.
Set against a backdrop of ice and mud and loss, this debut novel explores the unpredictable fissures of memory, and how families can break apart, even in the midst of healing. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Dan Berne here.
EXTRAORDINARY JANE by Hannah E. Harrison
Hannah Harrison is one of our own SCBWI Oklahoma members and we couldn’t be prouder of her first. This is a delightful book that shows off her artistic skills and storytelling ability all in one. I spoke at length about this book in my interview with Hannah on the blog here.
For anyone with a beloved pet, this delightful and heartwarming story set at the circus shows that quiet qualities like friendship, kindness, and loyalty are important and worthy.
Jane is an ordinary dog in an extraordinary circus. She isn’t strong, graceful, or brave like her family. When she tries to be those things, Jane just doesn’t feel like herself, but she also doesn’t feel special. Is she really meant for this kind of life? Her Ringmaster thinks so, but not for the reasons Jane believes. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Hannah E. Harrison here.
RANT by Chuck Palahniuk
This book was thrust in my hand by one of my daughter’s friend’s who’s a huge Palahniuk fan. How can you resist reading a book coming from that much enthusiasm? I did read my first book by Palahniuk last year at this same teen’s insistence and I wasn’t disappointed, so away I went on another crazy literary ride. It was worth it. There is no way to adequately describe one of his books without spoiling the experience, so I’ll let the plot summary speak for itself. If you’re open for a reading adventure of a mature content nature, this is your book. And as all of Palahniuk’s stories, there’s more to it than you may originally believe.
Be careful. You may be infected with rabies.
Buster “Rant” Casey uncovers a huge wealth that turns his tiny rural town on its head. He needs to get out of there. So he becomes obsessed with getting bitten by anything venomous—snakes, spiders, and whatever else he can find. Loving the side effect that is a big ol’ erection, he uses it to get an early diploma and a nice fat check to get him out of town.
Rant arrives in the city which the reader discovers is the opposite of a utopian society. All the residents take on their appropriate character of respectable Daytimers and oppressed Nighttimers—all due to a strictly enforced curfew.
A new Nighttimer, Rant tries to fit in with the “Party Crashers”, a group of demolition derby-ers who crash into other cars adorned with that night’s “flag”. A mattress on top of the car, words written on the rear windshield. As Rant becomes more entwined in the life of the “Party Crashers” he meets and falls in love with Echo Lawrence. He also starts a nationwide rabies epidemic that causes everyone who is infected to be shot and killed on the spot.
Rant comes from the point of view of people who knew Rant Casey. Through changes in space and time, you find out that Rant may be present in more than one person, could possibly be dead, and may have tried to kill or marry his mother. Seriously.
So, next time you think about tying a mattress or Christmas tree to the top of your car, think again, my friends. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Chuck Palahniuk here.
Follow Chuck on Twitter here.
NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro
I was listening to Kazuo Ishiguro give an interview on NPR and the more he talked about his writing and his life, the more fascinating he seemed. I thought that if his writing was anything like he was, I had to read one of his books. This book is so beautiful. The storytelling is so effortless, I just loved it. Even though the characters and their situation were sad and tragic, I was just so in awe of the whole thing. I don’t know if it was because I was viewing it as a writer or not. One thing I do know is that I could not put this book down.
As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.
And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.
A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
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MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf
I read this as my final selection for the Jazz Age January reading challenge and I really enjoyed it. This is the first I’ve ever read by Ms. Woolf. Her stream of consciousness writing style was unusual, but surprisingly easy to follow. Her choice to focus on the psychological inner lives of the characters versus pursuits of plot broke the mold of the times and raised quite a few eyebrows. I found her story very intriguing as well as insightful. Many of her characters dwelled on the subject of the meaning of life and the certainty of death. Interesting considering how Woolf chose to end her own life years later. Overall, I loved her use of language and the questions raised by her characters’ inner ramblings, even though I wasn’t always sure where her storyline was taking me. The journey was worth the ride.
Mrs Dalloway is a novel by Virginia Woolf that details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a fictional high-society woman in post-World War I England. It is one of Woolf’s best-known novels.
Created from two short stories, “Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street” and the unfinished “The Prime Minister,” the novel addresses Clarissa’s preparations for a party she will host that evening. With an interior perspective, the story travels forwards and back in time and in and out of the characters’ minds to construct an image of Clarissa’s life and of the inter-war social structure. In October 2005, Mrs Dalloway was included on TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Virginia Woolf here.
THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I really struggled with this book I chose for a Jazz Age January read. As this story was supposed to be a semi-autobiographical account of F. Scott Fiztgerald’s relationship with his wife Zelda, I was expecting a little more depth of character in this novel. What I found instead was a train wreck that I couldn’t wait to see the end of and where I had no invested interest in any of the characters on board. It has all the elements of a tragedy, yet for me to feel anything for the characters, to want to care anything for their fates, to weep over their sorrows, I have to care that bad things happen to them. However, these characters are so incredibly self-absorbed and unsympathetic that I just don’t care. When they have the power to alleviate their own suffering, but are just too lazy to do anything about it, I have no compassion. I really could not recommend this book to anyone. Read it at your own risk.
1921 F. Scott Fitzgerald was twenty-five and heralded as the most promising writer of his generation, owing to the success of his first novel This Side of Paradise. Recently married to the girl of his dreams, the former Zelda Sayre, Fitzgerald built upon his sudden prosperity with The Beautiful and the Damned, a cautionary tale of reckless ambition and squandered talent set amid the glitter of Jazz Age New York.
The novel chronicles the relationship of Anthony Patch, a Harvard-educated, aspiring writer, and his beautiful young wife, Gloria. While they wait for Anthony’s grandfather to die and pass his millions on to them, the young couple enjoys an endless string of parties, traveling, and extravagance. Beginning with the pop and fizz of life itself, The Beautiful and the Damned quickly evolves into a scathing chronicle of a dying marriage and a hedonistic society in which beauty is all too fleeting.
A fierce parable about the illusory quality of dreams, the intractable nature of reality, and the ruin wrought by time, The Beautiful and the Damned eerily anticipates the dissipation and decline that would come to the Fitzgeralds themselves before the decade had run its course. (Plot summary from Barnes and Noble website.)
A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway
I absolutely hated reading Hemingway back in high school THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA was one of the worst books I ever had to suffer through and I hoped I never had to read another Hemingway book again. I mean, who thinks teenagers are going to relate to that crap? That’s what I thought way back then. Flash-forward a few decades and I decided to give the old sea dog another try. I really enjoyed the HBO movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn, especially when presented in the lovely Clive Owen’s packaging. now, I can’t help picturing/hearing Hemingway just as Clive Owens portrayed him. Not altogether a bad thing, if you ask me. Then, the final push that led me to try Hemingway again was my father. He’d read this book and recommended it highly. That kind of sold me on it more than anything else (Sorry, Clive.)
Although this was an unusual piece to reintroduce myself to Hemingway as it was his last work and it wasn’t finished by him, it still did the job. In the end, it made me want to read some of his other works. I still have no desire to reread THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, but I would like to read THE SUN ALSO RISES as it was the book he was writing during the time period most covered during this book. I did find the order of the chapters and the skipping around of time a little jarring at times, but overall I really enjoyed getting a feel for the period and for the writers living in Paris and how they lived.
Begun in the autumn of 1957 and published posthumously in 1964, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast captures what it meant to be young and poor and writing in Paris during the 1920s. A correspondent for the Toronto Star, Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921, three years after the trauma of the Great War and at the beginning of the transformation of Europe’s cultural landscape: Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubist form; James Joyce, long living in self-imposed exile from his native Dublin, had just completed Ulysses; Gertrude Stein held court at 27 Rue de Fleurus, and deemed young Ernest a member of une gneration perdue; and T.S. Eliot was a bank clerk in London. It was during these years that the as-of-yet unpublished young writer gathered the material for his first novel The Sun Also Rises, and the subsequent masterpieces that followed.
Among these small, reflective sketches are unforgettable encounters with the members of Hemingway’s slightly rag-tag circle of artists and writers, some also fated to achieve fame and glory, others to fall into obscurity. Here, too, is an evocation of the Paris that Hemingway knew as a young man – a map drawn in his distinct prose of the streets and cafes and bookshops that comprised the city in which he, as a young writer, sometimes struggling against the cold and hunger of near poverty, honed the skills of his craft.
A Moveable Feast is at once an elegy to the remarkable group for expatriates that gathered in Paris during the twenties and a testament to the risks and rewards of the writerly life. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
DOLLFACE: A NOVEL OF THE ROARING TWENTIES by Renee Rosen
I received this book for review after answering a request on Twitter for book bloggers. I am so glad I did. This book was a lot of fun to read. I did a full review on the blog in January. Feel free to read more about my thoughts there.
Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind, and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”
As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entree into a world filled with bootlegged bourbon, wailing jazz and money to burn. She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them, until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.
The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles towards one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Renee Rosen here.
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