1 Jun
2012

Hot Potatoes

We aren’t the only peo­ple writ­ing book lists for sum­mer read­ing, we just hap­pen to be the best at it. The only rea­son the­se books didn’t make it onto one of our many lists is that they are already on every­body else’s lists. So the authors must be doing some­thing right. The­se books are the hot girl in your high school. The one who you mum­bled your invi­ta­tion to prom to and then ran away. Don’t be shy! They won’t bite!

The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler

It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neigh­bors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long–at least, up until last Novem­ber, when every­thing changed. Things have been awk­ward ever since, but when Josh’s fam­i­ly gets a free AOL CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new com­put­er. When they sign on, they’re auto­mat­i­cal­ly logged onto Face­book … but Face­book hasn’t been invent­ed yet. Josh and Emma are look­ing at them­selves fif­teen years in the future. Their spous­es, careers, homes, and sta­tus updates–it’s all there. And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change. As they grap­ple with what their lives hold, they’re forced to con­front what they’re doing right, and wrong, in the present.

Jay Asher’s first nov­el, Thir­teen Rea­sons Why spent over a year on the NYTimes best­seller list.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Green’s legions of fans — self-pro­claimed geeks who’ve adopt­ed the tag ‘’nerd­fight­ers’’ — will be pleased to know that the author’s unique brand of brainy, youth­ful humor shi­nes in The Fault in Our Stars despite tack­ling ill­ness and death. Six­teen-year-old Hazel ­Lan­cast­er is no saint­ly ter­mi­nal can­cer patient. She relies on sar­casm to get her through mind-numb­ing sup­port-group meet­ings until she meets Augus­tus Waters, who lost his right leg to osteosar­co­ma yet remains ‘’dead sexy.’’ Hazel and Augus­tus real­ize they don’t just have can­cer in com­mon; they also share a love for vio­lent ­videogames and a nihilis­tic Dutch author. Their ensu­ing love sto­ry is as real as it is doomed, and the gut-bust­ing laughs that come ear­ly in the nov­el make the lumi­nous final pages all the more heart­break­ing.

Daughter or Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

In a lit­er­ary land­scape teem­ing with all things super­nat­u­ral, it’s quite a feat for a YA fan­ta­sy book to come along that feels thrilling­ly fresh and new. But that’s just what Laini Taylor’s Daugh­ter of Smoke and Bone does. The smart­ly plot­ted, sur­pris­ing, and fierce­ly com­pelling read will hook you from its open­ing pages. (Can­cel all plans once you begin; you won’t want to put it down.) Our hero­ine, Karou, an azure-haired 17-year-old art stu­dent in Prague, speaks dozens of lan­guages and can fight, tal­ents that come in handy when she’s run­ning errands for her guardian, Brim­stone (a chimera with a ram’s head, a human’s tor­so, leonine legs, and talons). In Taylor’s rich­ly imag­ined uni­verse, angels are not always good and wish­es come from pain, but teenagers are reas­sur­ing­ly the same.

The sec­ond book in the series, Days of Blood and Starlight is com­ing out Octo­ber 6th.

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

The first in a series, Card’s lat­est title has much in com­mon with his Ender Wig­gins books: teens with spe­cial tal­ents, manip­u­la­tive gov­ern­ment author­i­ties, end­less­ly cre­ative worlds, and a refusal to dumb down a plot for a young audi­ence. Thir­teen-year-old Rigg is a Pathfind­er, one who sees the paths of oth­ers’ pasts. Rig­or­ous­ly trained and thor­ough­ly edu­cat­ed by his demand­ing father, Rigg is hor­ri­fied when Father dies unex­pect­ed­ly after a final order to find the sis­ter he nev­er knew he had. He is accom­pa­nied on this jour­ney by friends who have pow­ers of manip­u­lat­ing the flow of time. As in L’Engle’s Time Quar­tet, sci­ence is sec­ondary to the human need to con­nect with oth­ers, but Card does not shy away from full and fas­ci­nat­ing dis­cus­sions of the para­dox­i­cal worlds he has cre­at­ed.

The sec­ond book in the series, Ruins is com­ing out Octo­ber 30th.

Nothing by Janne Teller

Indeli­ble, elu­sive, and time­less, this uncom­pro­mis­ing nov­el has all the marks of a clas­sic. A group of Dan­ish sev­en­th-graders have their insu­lat­ed sub­ur­ban world jolt­ed when class­mate Pier­re Anthon stands up and announces, “Noth­ing mat­ters.” He prompt­ly takes up res­i­dence in a plum tree and cre­ates an exis­ten­tial cri­sis among the group with his dai­ly reports on the point­less­ness of life. Feel­ing a need to refute the alarm­ing notion, the kids decide to assem­ble a pile of objects that will prove Pier­re Anthon wrong. It starts sim­ply: Agnes gives up her favorite shoes; Den­nis, his beloved books. But as each sac­ri­fice grows in inten­si­ty, each kid enacts revenge by demand­ing an ever-greater sac­ri­fice from the next. With chill­ing rapid­i­ty, the “heap of mean­ing,” which they keep stored in an aban­doned sawmill, is tow­er­ing with gut-wrench­ing arti­facts of their loss of inno­cence, if inno­cence is some­thing that ever exist­ed. Teller offers just enough char­ac­ter detail to make the suf­fer­ing and cru­el­ty pal­pa­ble. Already a mul­ti­ple award win­ner over­seas, this is an unfor­get­table trea­tise on the fleet­ing and muta­ble nature of mean­ing.

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

Seth Gra­hame-Smith is like the world’s most deranged his­to­ry teacher — you can’t trust any­thing you learn from him, but you’ll nev­er for­get it, either. He kicked off the mash-up gen­re in Pride and Prej­u­dice and Zom­bies and per­fect­ed it in Abra­ham Lin­coln: Vam­pire Hunter. His lat­est nov­el, Unholy Night, uses the birth of Jesus as the back­drop for a fan­ta­sy action-adven­ture akin to fus­ing Game of Thrones with the Gospel of Luke. Gra­hame-Smith takes his his­to­ry seri­ous­ly, using it to add tex­ture and real­ism before releas­ing the crazi­ness. Here his main char­ac­ter, Balt­haz­ar, one of the trio we now know as the three kings, is a sort of New Tes­ta­ment John Dillinger, a well-known mur­der­ous thief who joins with fel­low scoundrels Melchy­or and Gas­par to escape Herod, who wants their heads. Herod also wants to slay every new­born male in the region, which is how the fugi­tives align them­selves with Mary and Joseph, naive new par­ents whose infant some­how tem­pers the ruth­less­ness of the thieves.
After estab­lish­ing his turn-of-A.D. bona fides, Gra­hame-Smith bids his­to­ry adieu, with the nativ­i­ty gang pur­sued at var­i­ous points by a black-mag­ic sor­cer­er, a young Pon­tius Pilate’s Roman legion, and a mob of Egyp­tian zom­bies. The unhinged imag­i­na­tion is fun, but it’s Grahame-Smith’s depic­tion of sacred fig­ures as flawed humans that makes the book feel like a secret account of events that have been san­i­tized by leg­end. It’s risky to turn a holy birth into a bloody sword-and-san­dal yarn, but if you can for­give that, I bet you-know-who would.

Strange Flesh by Michael Olson

James Pryce makes a liv­ing find­ing peo­ple who don’t want to be found, pur­su­ing their dig­i­tal tracks around the globe, flush­ing out crim­i­nals, and exact­ing cre­ative high-tech revenge on behalf of his clients. But this time he’s fol­low­ing his tar­get, bil­lion­aire mul­ti­me­dia artist Bil­ly Ran­dall, into an exotic and treach­er­ous world: a vir­tu­al one. This is the book we’ve been long­ing for. If The Girl with the Drag­on Tat­too began to scratch an itch to know more about the world behind our com­put­er screens, this sat­is­fies it. A great read on every lev­el: cap­ti­vat­ing plot, pre­cise and dia­mond-sharp pros­es, instant­ly inter­est­ing and intrigu­ing char­ac­ters, moments of sub­tle­ty and insight. Mike Olson has done some­thing far more com­pelling in his debut nov­el than just detail a pre­vi­ous­ly unknown world and yoke it to the gen­re of thrilling lit­er­ary fic­tion.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

A sharp, obser­vant, cur­rent sto­ry with real­ly well-devel­oped char­ac­ters. It’s also a page-turn­er that could have been ripped from the head­li­nes. Nick Dun­ne gets caught like a deer in the head­lights by the media and the police when his wife, Amy, goes miss­ing on their fifth anniver­sary. From inap­pro­pri­ate smil­ing to inad­ver­tant flirt­ing, he does pret­ty much every­thing you shouldn’t do when the nation­al media is camped on your doorstep. The whole coun­try is con­vinced Nick mur­dered his beau­ti­ful young wife, who hap­pens to have left a damn­ing diary behind. But this is as much a sto­ry of a mar­riage gone wrong as it is a mur­der mys­tery, and it takes some mighty big twists and turns before the truth is revealed.

Mr. g by Alan Lightman

Alan Light­man, the author of the best-sell­ing book Einstein’s Dreams, once again show­cas­es his train­ing as a the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist as well as his skill as a writer. Mr. g is God, the Cre­ator. He lives in the Void with his aunt and uncle and cre­ates uni­vers­es to fill his eter­nal time. In cre­at­ing his lat­est uni­verse, he begins by intro­duc­ing basic prin­ci­ples of physics, includ­ing causal­i­ty and rel­a­tiv­i­ty. First he invents time because space can’t exist with­out it. Then he intro­duces atoms that can tick and mea­sure time and thus allow for a past and a future. Then, of course, there’s the ques­tion of what to put in the space. Should the objects be ani­mate or inan­i­mate? Should they have a soul? And should Mr. g inter­fere if things don’t go well? To heat up Mr. g’s inter­nal debates, there’s Bel­hor, a Satan-like fig­ure of equal intel­li­gence who engages Mr. g in seri­ous intel­lec­tu­al con­ver­sa­tions, keep­ing Mr. g on his guard. What at first appears to be a whim­si­cal sto­ry of the cre­ation of the uni­verse winds its way through thought-pro­vok­ing ques­tions with humor and sound sci­ence prin­ci­ples.

The Watchers by Jon Steele

Switzerland’s Lau­san­ne cathe­dral serves as a fit­ting back­drop for Steele’s first nov­el, an imag­i­na­tive meta­phys­i­cal thriller. Slow-wit­ted Marc Rochat, the cathedral’s “watcher,” ful­fills dai­ly rou­ti­nes that he believes keep the cathe­dral a sanc­tu­ary to lost angels. One of those angels, to his mind, is beau­ti­ful Amer­i­can expa­tri­ate Kather­ine Tay­lor, a high­ly paid escort, recent­ly run afoul of vicious Rus­sian crim­i­nals. Mean­while, Jay Harper, an amne­si­ac oper­a­tive for the Inter­na­tion­al Olympic Com­mit­tee who’s been inves­ti­gat­ing a for­mer Olympian’s death, comes across the Book of Enoch, an apoc­ryphal book of the Bible con­cern­ing fal­l­en angels who inter­min­gled with human­i­ty. Steele keeps his tale tan­ta­liz­ing­ly ambigu­ous, cast­ing it with wild char­ac­ters and skill­ful­ly con­ceal­ing a sur­prise cli­max. This solid­ly plot­ted tale, the first in a tril­o­gy, will appeal to read­ers who like a hint of the uncan­ny in their fic­tion.

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