The Mid-Year Roundup – Best Books of 2016 So Far

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We are now more than halfway through the year (!?). It’s a good time to take stock and see which books stand out from the crowd. The following is a personal list of the books that really struck a chord with me and that I’ll be thinking about still when we get to the end of the year. These are the ones that would stay on my shelf if I had to purge my ever growing mountain of reading material.

All the Birds in the SkyCharlie Jane Anders: This is the kind of book I live for: a genre book that doesn’t feel like a bog-standard genre book. Fantasy is definitely a genre I love to lose myself in, but after a while you start to feel like there’s a checklist that every author is following. It’s kind of a joy when something scratches that escapist itch but offers up something different while it does so. What begins as a seemingly standard YA novel takes a turn partway through, jumping forward to a grim future. We catch up with the protagonists as adults — a magician and a scientist, both doing their best to save some small portion of a world ruined by humans.

The High Mountains of PortugalYann Martel:  This is a book that will definitely stay with me for a while. I can’t say that I fully understood everything that happened, but that’s why I’ll be thinking about it for a while. What does it all mean? I can probably ponder it for another year. But Martel’s writing is successful in that even when it’s so heavy on symbolism that you become lost, he manages to bring an emotional clarity that resonates. Even if you don’t really get it, you will feel the emotions that Martel wants you to feel and that in itself is worth the ride.

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being AloneOlivia Laing: Even though I would love to read nothing but fiction, I try to make sure I sprinkle some non-fiction in there, because it’s good for the brain and I’ve learned a lot including some non-fiction in my repertoire. Olivia Laing’s new book explores loneliness and more importantly, the process of learning to be alone. Humans are inherently social creatures and will go to great lengths to avoid being alone, but periods of being alone can be valuable — I have had vastly different experiences traveling alone vs. traveling with others. Laing’s personal experience is intertwined with meditations on works of art that arise out of being alone, and artists like Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol. 

Every Heart a DoorwaySeanan McGuire: This fantasy novella by Seanan McGuire touches on every imaginative kid’s secret hope – that the stories they read about children stumbling into other worlds like Narnia and Wonderland are true, and that there’s a world out there somewhere, just for them. She captures the truth at the heart of these stories, which is that when you feel like you don’t really quite fit in, it’s comforting to imagine that there is a place that fits you exactly – a place where you belong and feel at home, whether that feeling comes from being a hero, or just being able to live in a way that makes you comfortable. The kids in this book have found their worlds but lost them again and all they want is to go back. The question is, can you ever go back? And what would you do to get there?

Children of Earth & SkyGuy Gavriel Kay: If you’ve already read and love Kay, you’ll know what to expect with this book. His fantasy is almost historical fiction, with only the slightest touches of the supernatural. Here, he creates fictional versions of medieval Venice, Croatia and the Ottoman Empire. He resurrects the unsung heroes of Senj, a real settlement in Croatia whose soldiers (the Uskoks) protected the area from the Ottomans on one side and the Venetians on the other, until they were expelled in favor of Venetian interests. It’s an amazing story of heroism and adventure, and I especially like how the story is split between different types (and genders) of heroes. Archers and swordsmen are instrumental to the plot, but no more so than artists, bankers and nuns. I also liked how women are not delegated to non-fighting roles, nor are men exclusively set in fighting roles.

The GirlsEmma Cline: This book hardly needs my help. It is the book of the summer, if book blogs/review sites are to be believed. And it earns it. Emma Cline’s book takes the lurid magnetism of the Manson cult and uses it as jumping off point for a story that’s really about girls and women and their insecurities. It’s well-crafted, with an addictive quality that utterly captures what it is to be an adolescent girl, and the dangerous places that desperate need for love, acceptance and approval can take you. 

The Woman in Cabin 10Ruth Ware: For mysteries, this is the book of 2016 so far. This Agatha Christie-esque twisty mystery uses the claustrophobia of a shipboard mystery to great effect. A journalist aboard a luxury cruise seemingly witnesses a murder, only to find that no one’s missing from the ship. From there, it’s a good-old-fashioned whodunnit that you’ll find yourself frantically reading all night to find out what happens next. 

 

 

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The Fire Sale: Kindle Deals, July 2016

Happy Prime Day! Did you get any good deals from Amazon today? In honor of the occasion, it’s time for my monthly roundup of recommended picks from this month’s Kindle Deals. We’ve got some classics this months, as well as a couple of personal favorites.

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Mystery: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie: When you’re looking for a cracking mystery, you can’t go wrong with Agatha Christie. This novel is one of the best of her early mysteries, starring the French brainiac, Hercule Poirot and the characters of a cozy little English village. When the book first came out, readers were outraged at the tricks Miss Christie played, carefully populating the clues with distracting red herrings. Can you solve the mystery, or will the mistress of mystery get you?

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Fantasy/Sci-Fi: The Paper Menagerie & Other Stories – Ken Liu: It can be hard to decide whether to read a particular fantasy author. There are SO MANY of them and sometimes the descriptions start to sound the same. Fantasy world, politics, war, magic, etc. A good way to get a taste of a particular author without making the investment of a doorstopper novel is to check out short stories. You can find them on various websites, or you can go straight to the source. In this book, bestselling author Ken Liu has compiled his award-winning stories and you can grab them all for $1.99. If you like it, you can check out his novel, The Grace of Kings.

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Literature: Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut: Take advantage of this deal to grab one of literature’s classics. This absurdist masterpiece introduces the reader to Billy Pilgrim, a man who’s become “unstuck in time” after being abducted by aliens. The story follows him simultaneously through all the phases of his life, leading to his central and most shattering experience as a prisoner of war during the firebombing of Dresden.

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Memoir: The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen – Jacques Pepin: These days, there are TV chefs everywhere, and multiple networks devoted to celebrating food and drink. But back in the day, there was just Jacques and Julia. Before YouTube, aspiring home cooks would sit in front of the television and study Jacques Pepin’s instructions as he taught them how to cook and shaped American tastes. This memoir traces Pepin’s journey from kitchen apprentice to Emmy-winning superstar, and it also traces the evolution of America’s relationship with food.

Top 5 Most Anticipated: New Books, July 2016

It’s July! July always seems like a fun month. My birthday happens during this month and we also have fireworks day, aka Independence Day in the U.S. It’s also a big month for vacations. Typically for the summer months, people are looking for something light and entertaining that can stand up to the many distractions of the season. Bearing that in mind, here are my picks for July:

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Fiction: Heroes of the Frontier – Dave Eggers: Dave Eggers’ latest is a dark comedy about a woman whose life is falling apart. When she finds out her ex-husband is engaged and wants to take the kids to meet his new family, it’s the last straw. Josie lights out for the farthest place she can get without a passport: Alaska. At first it’s like a fun camping trip, but Josie soon finds out that you can’t run away from your issues — you bring them with you, whether you want to or not.

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Mystery/Thriller: The Woman in Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware: If there is a “buzz book” for July, this is it. Ruth Ware is already a NY Times bestseller, known for the twistiness of her mysteries. Her latest is set at sea, aboard an elite, luxurious cruise. Journalist Lo Blacklock has been lucky enough to snag the cruise as a writing assignment, but her dream vacation is cut short when she witnesses an act of violence. She sees a woman thrown overboard, but afterwards, all the passengers are accounted for and the cruise continues, uninterrupted. It’s a classic mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie, with some surprising twists.

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Fantasy: Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold: I am a sucker for fairy tales, or really, for folk tales and mythology of any kind. I devoured anything I could get my hands on, so I have a lot of gratitude for these authors who are making new fairy tales. This anthology collects some of the best of these fairy tale reboots, from authors like Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Catherynne M. Valente, Peter S. Beagle and many more.

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Fantasy/YA: Harry Potter & The Cursed Child — Jack Thorne: Anything with the name Harry Potter on it is going to be one of the most anticipated stories. This play, based on an original story by JK Rowling, is the first official Harry Potter story to hit the stage. This story catches up with Harry as an overworked Ministry of Magic employee and father of three. His youngest son gets into big trouble–so big, it could result in the return of Voldemort. Harry & the gang must spring back in action to save the day.

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Fiction: The Last One – Alexandra Oliva: Alexandra Oliva’s debut is already being compared to Station Eleven for its literary take on an apocalytpic future. It starts with a reality show, where a group of contestants are tasked with surviving in the wilderness. Sounds familiar, no? But in this case, while they’re out there, something happens in the world. Cut off from communications, they don’t realize what’s gone wrong and they can’t tell what’s part of the show and what’s not. We follow one of the contestants, Zoo. She’s left behind a husband she loves and now she’s alone, trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not, and whether she can ever get back home again.

The Book Was Better: Movies Based on Books, June 2016

Boy, the summer is really not a great season for literary films, is it? I could only come up with two June releases that were tied into books, but at least one is quite prominent.

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Me Before You: Let’s start with that one, shall we? Emilia Clarke, aka the Mother of Dragons, aka Khaleesi stars in this romance adapted for the screen by Jojo Moyes, from her popular 2012 novel. Clarke plays Louisa, an unambitious, unmotivated working class woman who needs work desperately. She finds it taking care of Will, a cynical banker paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. Even if you haven’t read the book, I bet you can guess what happens. That’s right, they fall in love! But their love is complicated by Will’s determination to end his life.

Fun Fact: Will’s father is played by Charles Dance, who played Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones. Khaleesi finally comes face to face with one of her Westerosi enemies, though she will never meet him in GoT.

Controversy: There has been backlash against the film within the disabled community, as some see the messaging around disability and euthanasia in this story as offensive. The film has opened to protests not just in the U.S. but abroad as well.

Book or Movie? Probably the book, here. The film has received fairly mixed reviews. The book, while not winning any literary prizes, has mass appeal and was overall reviewed positively, including a positive review from the New York Times’ Liesl Schillinger, who said “Unlike other novels that have achieved their mood-melting powers through calculated infusions of treacle — Erich Segal’s Love Story comes immediately to mind — Moyes’s story provokes tears that are redemptive, the opposite of gratuitous. Some situations, she forces the reader to recognize, really are worth crying over.”

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Genius: Based on the 1978 National Book Award winner, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, this film certainly has quite a cast: Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Dominic West and Guy Pearce are all featured in this film. It’s based on writer Thomas Wolfe and his relationship with publisher Maxwell Perkins.

Book or Movie?  With a cast like this, a script by a renowned playwright & screenwriter, the movie should have been a shoo-in, but it seems that the story of a book editor doesn’t make for super exciting cinema. The reviews are pretty lackluster and the overwhelming impression you get is that the movie is very sepia-toned, both visually and in spirit. The book, on the other hand, won the National Book Award and the author went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for a later work. If you’re at all interested in the subject matter, reading is probably the way to go.

The Fire Sale: Kindle Summer Reading Deals

A surprise summer illness combined with an increasing amount of insanity at work has really slowed down my posting on this blog, but I am hoping to get back on track as we move into July. I’m not actually sure if this month’s deals end at the end of June, since they are called “Summer Reading Deals.” I guess we’ll find out in a week or so!

Anyway, out of the current deals, here are my picks:

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Mystery/Thriller: The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco: Umberto Eco’s first novel made him an immediate global sensation. It’s combination of wry humor, scholarship and suspense are utterly addictive. The mystery is set in a 14th century abbey whose brothers are suspected of heresy. A young Brother is sent to investigate, but walks into a murder scene instead. Seven of them, in fact. He turns detective to get to the answer behind the bizarre deaths, using logic, theology and science to reveal the truth. As he collects evidence and deciphers cryptic clues, he is drawn deeper into the twisting labyrinth of the abbey’s mysteries.

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Fantasy/Sci-Fi: The Paper Magician Series – Charlie N. Holmberg: All three books in this series are on special right now, so it’s a great time to nab them. So often, Amazon will put up only the first book in a series to get you hooked, but this a chance to grab the whole thing at a deal. It’s the story of Ceony Twill, an overachiever at magic college who aspires to be a metal magician, but is instead assigned to paper — a substance she will be bonded to for life. She is surprised by the wonders she finds in paper, but her studies are cut short when an evil magician practicing forbidden magic cuts her teacher’s heart out. Ceony must embark on an extraordinary journey to save him. As the books continue Ceony discovers a secret – she can wield other magics besides her own, something thought impossible. Her resulting journeys are filled with adventure, danger and lots of magic.

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Literature/Fiction: Don’t Breathe a Word — Jennifer McMahon: Jennifer McMahon’s eerie tale of a couple who finds themselves caught up in seemingly supernatural events is a literary thriller that dips into fairy lore with its twisty plot. It’s the story of a girl who’s been missing for 15 years when her older brother and his girlfriend discover a book, supposedly written by the King of the Faeries, that holds the key to her disappearance. This haunting, surprising chiller was called “perfect winter truffle” by the NY Times reviewer: “dark, rich, earthy, and an absolute, decadent pleasure.”

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Biography/Memoir: Look, it’s June. You don’t need some dense historical biography right about now. You need something that will make you laugh and Sarah Colonna is guaranteed to do that. Take a laugh-out-loud trip around America and Mexico with Sarah as she braves crying in nail salons, mother-daughter road trips, Iowan casinos, and single-shaming resorts. This stand-up comedian was a writer for Chelsea Lately and this book shows the talent that got her the job.

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Young Adult: The Night We Said Yes — Lauren Gibaldi: This is a fun read for anyone who enjoys teen romances, like those of Sarah Dessen. Ella meets Matt on one crazy night where they decide to say yes to everything for the whole night. It seems like the start of something big, but then Matt leaves town abruptly, breaking Ella’s heart. One year later he’s back and he wants to relive that night with Ella. She isn’t sure if it’s worth a second chance. Can re-enacting your past really create a different future?

Summer Reads 2016: The Ultimate Guide

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Summer is the acknowledged time of year for catching up on all that reading you were too busy to do earlier. Whether you get a vacation to somewhere relaxing and warm, or if all you can pull off is a staycation, there’s usually some time for sitting down and losing yourself in a good story. Here’s my list of this season’s must-reads — one for each month of summer in each category — whether you’re looking for a quick thrill or something to really wrap your head around.

GENERAL FICTION

The Girls – Emma Cline: Emma Cline’s debut novel takes place during the summer, 1967. 14-year-old Evie Boyd’s summer is probably vastly unlike yours. (Unless you are getting involved in a Manson Family-ish cult. Hey, no judgments here, everyone celebrates summer in their own way). This dark, insightful examination of girls and women and their desperate desire for love and belonging is a powerful debut and a page-turning read.

The Last One – Alexandra Oliva: This summer is a strong one for first-timers. Another debut n0vel, this near-future thriller begins with a reality show — one that’s not too far off from the ones that already exist, like Naked & Afraid or Alone. 12 contestants test their endurance and survival skills in the woods. But while they’re out there, something happens to world and none of them know. When one of them stumbles across the devastation, she is unable to tell what part of it is real and what is part of the game.

The Dollhouse – Fiona Davis: Yet another debut, this one places us in the world of NYC’s glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where single women make their homes. Many of them are models, but our heroine most definitely is not. Darby is a plain, self-conscious secretarial student whose only friend is a hotel maid. More than 50 years later, the Barbizon is gone, but Darby’s still there in the condos that took its place, and rumors still float around about her involvement in a violent event. Darby’s journalist neighbor can’t resist seeking out the story and her poking around will change both women when the truth is finally uncovered.

LITERARY FICTION

Chronicle of a Last Summer – Yasmine El Rashidi: It’s a blistering hot summer in Cairo, 1984. A young girl tries to make sense of what is happening in her world, catching information only from hushed phone calls, state-sanctioned news and the view from her window. People disappear, including her father, and no one will say why or where they went. We meet her again as a college student and aspiring filmmaker, and then later in the stormy aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow, when she is finally reunited with her father. Tying in the history of a city in transition with the personal history of a single family, El Rashidi explores what it means to grow up in a society defined by its silence.

The Trouble With Goats & Sheep – Joanna Cannon: There’s a mystery in the neighborhood. Mrs. Creasy is missing and 10-year-old Grace & Kelly set out to find God. If they can find him, they can also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home. On their search for clues, the amateur sleuths find much more than they imagine. Secrets abound on their quiet street, and what they don’t know is that the lies they are uncovering are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was discovering before her disappearance.

How to Party With an Infant – Kaui Hart Hemmings: The author of The Descendants brings us a new novel about a quirky single mom in San Francisco. Mele Bart found out she was pregnant just before she found out her boyfriend was engaged to someone else. Whoops. Two years later, she’s got a toddler and they’re both invited to the wedding. Finding herself in danger of becoming too obsessed with her ex’s fiancee, Mele joins a mommy group to distract herself. To her utter shock, it’s there that she finds her people and the comfort she’s been craving.

NON-FICTION

Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life – Liesa Mignona (editor): It seems like lately, every other movie and even TV show is some sort of superhero story. We have a growing cultural obsession and Liesa Mignona has gathered together some great authors to expound on this obsession. Contributors include New York Times bestsellers Christopher Golden, Leigh Bardugo, Brad Meltzer, Neil Gaiman, Carrie Vaughn, Jodi Picoult, and Jamie Ford, as well as award-winners and mainstays like Joe R. Lansdale, Karina Cooper, and Ron Currie, Jr among many others. The authors share their experiences, both hilarious and heart-wrenching, with their favorite super. This diverse collection of essays explains why superheros matter and what they tell us about our society and where we are headed.

I Wish My Teacher Knew – Kyle Schwartz: One day, third-grade teacher Kyle Schwartz asked her students to fill–in–the–blank in this sentence: “I wish my teacher
knew _____.” The results were shocking. Some were adorable and funny, others heartbreaking and profoundly touching. The answers she got opened her eyes to the need to teachers to understand their students and create a safe, supportive space in the classroom. And the phenomenon extended outside her classroom — online, #IWishMyTeacherKnew became a viral phenomenon. This book tells those previously untold stories and serves as a guide for parents, teachers and communities everywhere.

The Fire This Time – Jesmyn Ward: This is not exactly a light read for summer, but an important one. National Book Award–winner Jesmyn Ward takes James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America, The Fire Next Time, as a jumping off point for this groundbreaking collection of essays and poems about race from the most important voices of her generation and our time. Divided into three parts, the book addresses our past, present, and possible future in its short essays, memoir and poems. Contributors include Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Garnette Cadogan, Edwidge Danticat, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Mitchell S. Jackson, Honoree Jeffers, Kima Jones, Kiese Laymon, Daniel Jose Older, Emily Raboteau, Claudia Rankine, Clint Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Wendy S. Walters, Isabel Wilkerson, and Kevin Young.

MYSTERY & THRILLERS

All the Missing Girls – Megan Miranda: This is a nailbiter about two girls who go missing, ten years apart. Nicolette Farrell is returning home for the first time since her best friend disappeared, years ago. Days after her return, another woman goes missing. Nicole’s search to figure out what’s going on uncovers shocking secrets about her friends and family. This unpredictable thriller delivers on suspense and unexpected twists.

The Woman in Cabin 10Ruth Ware: This suspenseful, haunting novel from “twisty-mystery” master, Ruth Ware, is reminiscent of the good-old-fashioned whodunnits of Agathie Christie. A journalist gets the ultimate gig, covering a luxury cruise. What starts out as a pleasant journey turns dark. First literally, when storms set in, then situationally, when Lo witnesses a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? None of the passengers are missing, and the ship sails on as if nothing’s happened.

The Assassin Game – Kirsty McKay: In an isolated boarding school, the girls pass the time with an elaborate game called “Killer.” Only the school’s elite are invited to play. One of them is a “killer,” playing elaborate pranks on the others, which they must “survive.” Only the Game Master knows the killer. When Cate is invited to the exclusive Assassin’s Guild, she knows she’s finally made it. But that year, someone takes the game too far, threatening the Guild’s existence. Kate must find the real assassin before the game is shut down for good, and — more importantly — before she becomes the next target.

TRAVEL

All Strangers Are Kin – Zora O’Neill:  A lively, often hilarious, and always warm-hearted exploration of Arabic language and culture, guided by a keen-eyed travel writer with twenty years of experience studying Arabic

The Art of Exile – John Freeley:  When John Freeley was just 19, he met his true love and the two vowed to spend their lives traveling. This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to World War II in the Pacific to Ancient Troy and the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love.

The Last Hobo: This book focuses on another free-wheeling 19-year-old who sets out to live his dream of becoming a hobo. But in 1979, America is not the same as it once was. Like a modern day Don Quixote, Granger’s hobo fantasies clash hilariously with reality and a bright, colorful portrait of America emerges.

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League of Dragons – Naomi Novik: If you love fantasy, and you’re looking for a series to really dig into this summer, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series comes to an end with this June publication. It’s an alternate universe series set during the Napoleonic Wars in a world like ours, but with dragons. There are a total of nine books that follow the adventures of British Royal Aerial Corps Captain William Laurence and his Chinese dragon, Temeraire. The two of them travel to Australia, South America, China and Russia, plus many other locations around the world over the course of the books. If you’re looking for a great escape this summer, diving into this series could be it.

The Age of Myth – Michael Sullivan: While League of Dragons marks the end of a series, The Age of Myth marks the beginning of one. This series opener is set in a world where people worship gods that they can see, masters of battle and magic who are seemingly invincible … until one is killed by a human. With this act, the Age of Myth ends and a time of rebellion begins. The humans must fight together or be destroyed. The story follows the God-Killer, Raithe; the young seer Suri and Persephone, who must step up to lead her people in the face of impending doom.

Summerlong – Peter S. Beagle: The author of the beloved The Last Unicorn is back with this bittersweet tale of passion, enchantment and fate. Lioness Lazos sweeps into the lives of an aging Pacific Northwest couple, turning their wintry home into a summer paradise. Everything seems perfect until Lioness’s past shows up at their door and the family realizes they are dealing with something out of ancient myth, and their idyllic summer is coming to an end.

YOUNG ADULT

Summer in the Invisible City – Juliana Romano: Most teens can probably relate to this perfect summer book. For high schoolers, summer is a time to reinvent yourself. It’s a chance to get things set up for a better school year, although it rarely works out that way. But Sadie Bell is full of plans — for making friends with the cool girls, spending time with her famous but absentee artist dad and getting over the guy who was her first mistake. But all her plans are derailed by Sam, a free-thinker who makes her question all her desires. All he wants is friendship, but when Sadie experiences a huge betrayal, that friendship may not be enough. This sweet coming-of-age romance is a perfect summer read for teens dreaming of a life-changing summer.

Learning to Swear in America – Katie Kennedy: I am a sucker for end-of-the-world stories. I don’t know why, but something about the end times is just really cathartic for me. In this YA romantic comedy, an asteroid is hurtling towards the earth and it’s going to destroy a large swath of the world. A teen prodigy from Russia knows how to stop the asteroid, but even though he’s been recruited by NASA, no one will actually listen to his plans. Then he meets Dovie, a normal teen who lives like nothing is wrong. Sharing adventures with Dovie, Yuri learns the value of what he’s trying to save.

Been Here All Along – Sandy Hall: Gideon is on track for success. He’s going to run for class president, become head of the yearbook committee and get into a great college. What’s not part of his plan is falling for his best friend Kyle. Kyle, who’s captain of the basketball team and dating the head cheerleader. Kyle, meanwhile, should have it easy. As a top athlete with a gorgeous girlfriend and best friend willing to debate the finer points of Lord of the Rings, he’s got it all. But when his girlfriend and his best start acting weird at the same time as his spot on the team is threatened, Kyle is left struggling to figure out what he did wrong.

 

Top 5 Most Anticipated: New Books, June 2016

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Fiction: The Girls – Emma Cline: As the 1960s draws to a close, young Evie Boyd’s summer starts out ordinary. She spends most days with her very average best friend, crushing on his older brother but never doing much of anything. Then one day, she meets the girls – wild, hippie girls who steal food from dumpsters and drive around in a pitch black bus. Loosely based on the Manson Family, the girls of the ranch and their leader, Russell, draw Evie into their world, even as that world spirals slowly towards disaster. In the modern day, an aging, reclusive Evie is drawn back into the memories of those days by an intrusion into her isolated life. Much more than a lurid tale of an innocent drawn into sex and violence, it’s a story of girls and women, and the invisible forces of society that lead them into destruction.

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Graphic Novel: Hot Dog Taste Test – Lisa Hanawalt: Artist Lisa Hanawalt’s point of view is unique, raunchy and hilarious. Best known as the production designer for Netflix series, Bojack Horseman and for her James Beard award-winning culinary comics and essay illustrations for Lucky Peach magazine, Hanawalt’s second graphic novel collects her food-related funnies, taking on everything from Las Vegas buffets to top chef Wylie Dufresne to breakfast. Hanawalt’s signature style always includes animals as characters, so expect lots of those, along with loads of color and craziness. But it’s not just shallow silliness, there’s a deep wit and talent for cultural observation lurking within these pages.

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Non-Fiction: But What If We’re Wrong? – Chuck Klosterman: Every generation thinks that they’re the ones that have it figured out. They know better than their parents, and the world as they see it is the world that will always be. But things change and what once was common knowledge is now hopelessly obsolete. Essayist Klosterman, with the help of creative thinkers like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Jonathan Lethem, Richard Linklater and more, tries to imagine our current culture as it will appear to generations of the future. What will the future remember about television, about rock music, about sports? What will we learn about reality that we don’t yet know?

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Memoir: I’m Just a Person – Tig Notaro: Tig Notaro is one of the funniest comics working standup today, with a deadpan silliness and off-kilter humor. But after a devastating year that saw her hospitalized, losing her mother, going through a breakup and then being diagnosed with cancer her live appearances took a turn. Instead of faking it with typical stand up material, she confronted her situation head-on in her material and made a huge splash. Now, she takes stock of that year in a moving and hilarious look at a courageous journey through darkness ending in triumph.

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Mystery/Thriller: All the Missing Girls – Megan Miranda: Nicolette Farrell left home and never looked back after the disappearance of her best friend, but an ailing father draws her back to town and back into that old case. Another woman, who was related to the first disappearance, goes missing and Nic works to unravel the truth of both disappearances, revealing shocking truths about the people in her life.

The Book Was Better: Movies Based on Books, May 2016

So May is not the most literary of months at the movies. It makes sense, since we’re coming into Summer blockbuster season and those don’t tend to be based on pre-existing books, unless those books are of the comic or airport/supermarket variety. But there are a few, so I present a highly abbreviated “movies based on books” post for May.

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Maggie’s Plan: Maggie’s Plan is a little bit of a cheat, because it’s based on a book, but the book is unpublished. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers, so I’ll take it. Starring Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Wallace Shawn and Julianna Moore, Maggie’s Plan is an offbeat romantic comedy about a young New Yorker who decides to have a baby. Maggie is a complete control freak, so she plans her babyhaving experience to every last detail, only to be blindsided by the unpredictability of life. She falls for a married man whose relationship is in shambles. She changes everything to get and keep her new love, only to find herself falling quickly out of love once they’re married. Her new plan? To get him back with his ex-wife, ASAP.

Book or Movie? For this one it has to be movie. The book hasn’t been published, although who knows, perhaps it will now. The movie has good reviews, with high marks for its smart sense of humor and for Julianne Moore for stealing the show with her comic performance.

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Alice Through the Looking Glass: This is Disney’s follow-up to its 2010 live action Alice in Wonderland. In this sequel, Alice returns to Wonderland to find the Mad Hatter in deep trouble and getting madder by the minute. She takes a trip back in time to solve her friend’s problem before it even begins and hopefully solve some of her own problems along the way.

Book or Movie? Book, all the way. The film bears little resemblance to the book from which is takes its name. The book details Alice’s surreal journey across a chessboard that is the size of a country. If she can make it the other side, she will become a queen. There are all kinds of fun parallels to actual chess rules and the dreamlike adventure always comes back to the fundamental question: what if we are nothing but pieces of someone else’s dream? The book is a classic. The movie on the other hand, isn’t getting great reviews, with critics opining that the film suffers without Tim Burton at the helm and in the end what you have is a lot of expensive set pieces with very little substance.

The Fire Sale: Kindle Deals, May 2016

It’s a new month, which means Amazon has rotated its selection of Kindle deals. At $3.99 or less, these deals are great opportunities to pick up great books you overlooked, or guilty pleasures you wouldn’t buy at full price. But there’s a lot to wade through — here’s my top picks in a number of genres.

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Mystery/Thriller: The Wayward Pines Trilogy: At $1.99 a piece, this trio of mysteries that inspired the M. Night Shyamalan-produced television show is a great pick to accompany you on your Memorial Day travels. The books take place in Wayward Pines, a mysterious town where people seem to come, but never leave. Secret Service Agent has come to town investigating a mystery, only to find himself trapped. Uncover the mystery of Wayward Pines along with Ethan.

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Fantasy: The Hedge Knight/The Sworn Sword: If you’re a Game of Thrones fan and you’ve got an e-reader that can display graphic novels, here’s a chance to dip into the wider world of the fantasy epic for $2.99 apiece. The Hedge Knight details events 100 years before the main series, following Dunk and Egg, a knight and his squire trying to make a name for themselves and remain honorable in a world of betrayal and political scheming. The Sworn Sword continues the adventures of Dunk and Egg, revealing new glimpses into the history of A Song of Ice and Fire.

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Fiction: Harold and Maude: This is the novelization of writer Colin Higgins’ cult classic film about the love affair between a 19-year-old boy and a 79-year-old woman. Young Harold is obsessed with death. He attends any funeral he finds, drives a Hearse and fakes suicide. Maude, on the other hand, loves life. She transplants endangered trees and paints smiles onto solemn statues. The two meet, fall in love and Harold learns to love life for what it is. See the movie first, then read the book, which answers some of the questions left unresolved in the movie.

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Non-Fiction: Mo’ Beta Blues: The World According to Questlove: Depending on who you are, you may know Questlove as a DJ, cofounder of The Roots, a Twitter tweeter, or the bandleader for Jimmy Fallon. Whichever way you come to Questlove, his story will inspire. This is his memoir, with a unique perspective on hip-hop, music criticism and celebrity encounters. It’s also full of the incredible poetic voice and musings that is unique to Questlove. If you need more convincing, let Amy Poehler make her pitch: “Attention White Girls: Stop reading about vampires and read what Questlove has to say instead. Mo’ Meta Blues is a magical kaleidoscope about a high concept, low maintenance genius named Ahmir. Like him, it’s smart, funny, sweet and in a thousand places at once. Read it or rot on your vine.”

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Young Adult: Catherine, Called Birdy: When every other book is about paranormal or post-apoctalyptic teens, this blast from the past may be a breath of fresh air to middle grade readers. Catherine doesn’t live in a bleak future, but in the distant past. She is 14 an the daughter of a minor noble in the year 1290. She’s called Birdy because she keeps birds as pets. This book takes the form of her diary as she observes daily life while trying to avoid arranged marriage for as long as she can. It’s an incredibly detailed picture of life in the 13th century that young readers will relate to, even as they learn from it.

 

Top 5 Most Anticipated: New Books, May 2016

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Fiction: Zero K – Don Delillo

Don Delillo is a master of postmodern fiction, covering just about everything we deal with in the modern age, including technology, terrorism, the media, politics, economics and more. In his latest novel, he tackles cryonics – the science of freezing the bodies of terminally ill people in hopes that they can be revived when a cure is found. He explores the subject through the relationship of Ross, a wealthy man and his son, Jeff. Ross’s wife is ill and undergoing cryonic preservation. The decision Ross must make is whether to join her, although he is healthy. He wants nothing more than to go into oblivion and wake up to a new world, while Jeff is adamant that life is for living, no matter what comes. It’s the ultimate question for a world in which war, global warming and economic distress is rampant — at what point is the world no longer worth living in? Delillo tackles that question with his customary talent for gorgeous language and cultural critique.

 

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Non-Fiction: The View From the Cheap Seats – Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of the greats of fantasy/genre writing and this book offers a chance to get into his head. It’s a collection of non-fiction essays on everything from art and artists to dreams and myths. It’s a rare chance to get to know one of the most beloved authors of our time.

 

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Fantasy: The Children of Earth & Sky – Guy Gavriel Kay

If you have never read any of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books, and you are a fan of fantasy like The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, you definitely should give Kay a try. His books take place in fantasy versions of historical time periods around the world. In Kay’s stories, you can dive into Renaissance Italy, Tang Dynasty China, medieval Spain, Byzantium and more, but with added magic and genre flavor. His latest book, The Children of Earth & Sky takes place in a fictional version of Renaissance Europe and details the conflicts between the Jaddites (pseudo-Christians) and Osmanlis (pseudo-Ottomans). Stuck in the middle is Seressa (pseudo-Venice), an independent republic of merchant traders who need the trade with the Osmanlis to bolster their wealth and power. The story is told through the point of view of characters on all sides and there is an abundance of intrigue, spying and politicking. It’s a juicy tale full of detail that draws on real history, but brings the story into the realm of fantasy.

 

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Autobiography: Shrill – Lindy West

Lindy West is one of my favorite feminist writers. She approaches her subjects with both humor and fearlessness. She used to be a writer for Jezebel and her articles were always hands down the best and funniest on the site. Since then, she’s gone on to write for just about everywhere and stayed vocal and active in social justice despite vocal and sometimes brutal opposition. This collection of essays shares her life stories and point of view and has been getting rave reviews from everyone.

 

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Mystery/Thriller: Before the Fall – Noah Hawley

If you’re a TV watcher, you know Noah Hawley as the creator of the critically-acclaimed show Fargo, based on the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning film. It takes skill to transform an acclaimed film into a TV show that merits equal acclaim and Hawley has proven himself adept at suspense and crime stories, so it’s no surprise that advance press has this as the thriller of the year. It starts with a private jet crash that kills everyone aboard except a struggling artist and a small boy. As the story behind the crash slowly comes to light, the relationship between the two survivors grows, raising questions of destiny and of human nature.