9 Oct
2012

Mystery Series Week!
A Guide to Mystery Series.

This is Mys­tery Series Week, and if you have ever been in our book aisle, then you know we have an affin­i­ty for mys­ter­ies. We know it can be daunt­ing to pick up a new series, but the reward is huge. Is there any­thing more fun than sit­ting down with a cup of tea and get­ting ful­ly absorbed in a great mys­tery? The answer is no. The best thing about a great series is that you get to know the char­ac­ters, par­tic­u­lar­ly the detec­tives, get­ting famil­iar with their lit­tle quirks, styles of sleuthing and, of course, their strange friends. Use this week as an excuse to start a new obses­sion, and here are some handy lists to get you start­ed, fea­tur­ing three of our favorite mys­tery authors: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Say­ers, and Alexan­der McCall Smith. The best thing to do is pick one and jump right in!

Agatha Christie:

This is the cor­ner­stone in the world of mys­tery series. Dame Agatha Christie is the world’s best-sell­ing author, accord­ing to Guin­ness Book of World Records. She is most famous for her detec­tive Her­cule Poirot and Miss Marple. We car­ry most of her books, and there are tons of them, which can make it dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out where to start. Most peo­ple are famil­iar with Agatha Christie through her film and TV adap­ta­tions. This is actu­al­ly a pret­ty good guide, because her best books trans­lat­ed into the most pop­u­lar adap­ta­tions. You don’t have to read her books in any par­tic­u­lar order, so where to start is com­plete­ly up to you, but there are some books that will get you hooked faster than oth­er ones.This list should help you get start­ed with the Her­cule Poirot and Miss Marple mys­ter­ies, both of which are high­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Her­cule Poirot:
Prob­a­bly Agatha Christie’s most well-known detec­tive, and sec­ond only to Sher­lock Holmes as the most famous fici­ton­al detec­tive of all time. Her­cule Poirot is known for his “lit­tle grey cells” and using “order and method” to solve mys­ter­ies, as well as gath­er­ing all his sus­pects togeth­er at the end of the book to reveal who the mur­der­er is. Poirot’s mys­ter­ies are the most pop­u­lar adap­ta­tions, so they make a good jump­ing-off point for Agatha Christie novices.

There is a bit of a debate here whether to start with Death on the Nile or Mur­der on the Ori­ent Express, but either one is sure to get you hooked. By the time you fin­ish those you are sure to be thirst­ing for more Poirot, and I would con­tin­ue with The Mys­te­ri­ous Affair at Styles, Mur­der in Mesopotamia, An Appoint­ment with Death, and Per­il at End House. By the time you fin­ish the­se you will be a Poirot expert and can then branch out to any of his numer­ous nov­els, and there are 33 in all so you should have plen­ty to choose from.

Miss Marple:
Based on Agatha Christie’s grand­moth­er and her cronies, Miss Marple is an elder­ly ama­teur detec­tive in the vil­lage of St. Mary Mead. She solves crimes with shrewd intel­li­gence, keen insight, and a ten­den­cy to be under­es­ti­mat­ed. Miss Marple is a real treat to read. I also find that you can solve the mys­ter­ies if you pay atten­tion. Every­thing falls right into place, and you feel like a bit of a detec­tive your­self, sleuthing out the mur­der­er using the evi­dence pre­sent­ed in the course of the book.

Although Mur­der at the Vic­arage is the first Miss Marple nov­el, her char­ac­ter wasn’t ful­ly devel­oped, and she isn’t the sweet, clev­er old lady that she is for most of her books. I would start with A Mur­der is Announced, and fol­low up with The Body in the Library. From there you should read The Mov­ing Fin­ger, A Pock­et Full of Rye, A Caribbean Mys­tery, and 4:50 from Padding­ton. Miss Marple appears in 12 nov­els in all, but they are all among Agatha Christie’s best-loved books, and if you like Miss Marple then you should read them all.

Dorothy Sayers:

Dorothy Say­ers is most famous for her aris­to­crat­ic ama­teur sleuth Lord Peter Wim­sey, and he is a bit of an obses­sion for us here at KU. He is every­thing we strive to be. He col­lects first edi­tions, (me too, and because of him) has an exten­sive knowl­edge of fine wines, (I’m work­ing on it, main­ly by drink­ing lots) and oth­er culi­nary mat­ters, played world class crick­et for Oxford, (why I watch crick­et) and he has a superla­tive manser­vant, Bun­ter (still look­ing for my manser­vant, so if any­one out there lives to serve, call me). And Lord P. isn’t a Nan­cy Boy, in fact he is kind of a bad-ass, albeit a smar­ty-pants one. Best of all, he has the most attrac­tive (to me) of traits, a wry and self-dep­re­cat­ing sense of humor.

I would rec­om­mend read­ing Dorothy Say­ers’ books in order. You don’t have to, but there some char­ac­ter pro­gres­sion that is a bit more enjoy­able when read chrono­log­i­cal­ly. How­ev­er, there are some nov­els that I rec­om­mend more than oth­ers, so if you feel like jump­ing around then I would encour­age that. The first book is Whose Body?, which I would start with, even if you aren’t read­ing them all in order. The two best books are Mur­der Must Adver­tise, and Strong Poi­son (which intro­duces Lord Peter’s detec­tive foil and love inter­est, Har­ri­et Vane), which are among the most beloved mys­ter­ies sto­ries of all time. Then I would move on to Gaudy Night, Have His Car­case, and Busman’s Hon­ey­moon. There are 16 Lord Peter Wim­sey books in all, so if he and Har­ri­et Vane pique your inter­est, then you have plen­ty of read­ing to do.

Alexander McCall Smith:

Alexan­der McCall Smith has sev­er­al mys­tery series, but he is best known for his series con­cern­ing Mma Pre­cious Ramotswe and the rest of the crew at The No. 1 Ladies Detec­tive Agen­cy in Botswana. This a charm­ing series, with a large cast of char­ac­ters whom you get to know fair­ly well over the course of the series. His sec­ond most pop­u­lar series is the 44 Scot­land Street series, about a board­ing house in Edin­burgh and the per­son­al dra­ma of its res­i­dents. Both come high­ly rec­om­mend­ed by us here at KU.

The No. 1 Ladies Detec­tive Agen­cy:
You may be famil­iar with the­se books through HBO’s tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tions, but I high­ly rec­om­mend read­ing them if you are a fan. The­se books are episod­ic, and can be read chrono­log­i­cal­ly or here and there. Either way you choose to read them, I would start with the first book, The  No. 1 Ladies Detec­tive Agen­cy, just so you get a sense of back­ground. Then you can work your way through the 13 oth­er books in the series. My favorite is the first book, but I loved all of them, espe­cial­ly In the Com­pa­ny of Cheer­ful Ladies, which is the six­th book.

 44 Scot­land Street:
44 Scot­land Street is a board­ing house in a part of Edin­burgh where the bour­geoisie and the bohemi­an mix. As you can imag­ine, this is a per­fect set­ting for all kinds of humor and trou­ble, which is pre­cise­ly where Alexan­der McCall Smith is at his best. Again, the­se books are episod­ic and can be read in any order you like, but I would rec­om­mend start­ing with the first book, 44 Scot­land Street, and con­tin­u­ing from there. There are 8 books in all, and they are all delight­ful.

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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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1 Jun
2012

No Commitment

The­se are great books to read in between oth­er sum­mer activ­i­ties, like skin­ny-dip­ping, grillin’ up some ‘dogs, and tak­ing three naps in one day. You don’t even need a book­mark for most of the­se. Just pick them up, flip to what­ev­er page tick­les your fan­cy and give it a quick read. The­se books can also be great for recharg­ing your mind after some more seri­ous, brain-bend­ing reads. Or just leave them out for peo­ple to flip through while they are sip­ping mint juleps or going to the bath­room.

All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps by Dave Isay

Sto­ryCorps founder Dave Isay shares true sto­ries of love and mar­riage from the rev­o­lu­tion­ary oral his­to­ry project, reveal­ing the many and remark­able jour­neys that rela­tion­ships can take. In sto­ries that car­ry us from the excite­ment and antic­i­pa­tion of courtship to the deep con­nec­tion of life­long com­mit­ment, we dis­cov­er that love is found in the most unex­pect­ed of places—a New York toll­booth, a mil­i­tary base in Iraq, an air­port lounge—and learn that the course it takes is as unpre­dictable as life itself. As the sto­ry­tellers in this book start careers, build homes, and raise fam­i­lies, we wit­ness the life-affirm­ing joy of part­ner­ship, the com­fort of shared sor­rows, and pro­found grat­i­tude in the face of loss. The­se sto­ries are also tes­ta­ment to the heart’s remark­able endurance. In All There Is we encoun­ter love that sur­vives dis­crim­i­na­tion, ill­ness, pover­ty, distance—even death. In the courage of people’s pas­sion we are remind­ed of the strength and resilience of the human spir­it. This pow­er­ful col­lec­tion bares wit­ness to real love, in its many var­ied forms, enrich­ing our under­stand­ing of that most mag­i­cal feel­ing.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

The uncom­mon­ly sen­si­ble, reflex­ive­ly fun­ny Miz Fey puts on the lit­er­ary equiv­a­lent of a great night of sketch com­e­dy in a genial­ly jum­bled mem­oir-esque col­lec­tion of riffs, essays, laun­dry lists, true sto­ries, fan­ta­sy sce­nar­ios, SNL script excerpts, and embar­rass­ing pho­tos from the wilder­ness years before she received the gift of a flat­ter­ing hair­cut. Read close­ly to enjoy the work­ings of the lady’s first-rate hypocrisy detec­tor, mer­ri­ly call­ing bull­shit where call­ing bull­shit is war­rant­ed. Espe­cial­ly on her­self, the ­for­mer dork duck­ling from Upper Dar­by, PA., who ­became a com­e­dy swan queen.

Good Poems selected by Garrison Keillor

Peo­ple tune in to The Writer’s Almanac on pub­lic radio every day to hear Gar­rison Keil­lor read them a poem. And here, for the first time, is an anthol­o­gy of poems from the show, cho­sen by Keil­lor for their wit, their frank­ness, their pas­sion, their “utter clar­i­ty in the face of every­thing else a per­son has to deal with at 7 a.m.” Good Poems includes verse about lovers, chil­dren, fail­ure, every­day life, death, and tran­scen­dence. It fea­tures the work of clas­sic poets, such as Emi­ly Dick­in­son, Walt Whit­man, and Robert Frost, as well as the work of con­tem­po­rary greats such as Howard Nemerov, Charles Bukowski, Don­ald Hall, Bil­ly Collins, Robert Bly, and Sharon Olds. It’s a book of poems for any­body who loves poet­ry whether they know it or not.

Ant Farm by Simon Rich

Excerpt: A Con­ver­sa­tion at the Grownup Table, as Imag­ined at the Kids’ Table:
MOM: Pass the wine, please. I want to become crazy.
DAD: O.K.
GRANDMOTHER: Did you see the pol­i­tics? It made me angry.
DAD: Me, too. When it was over, I had sex.
UNCLE: I’m hav­ing sex right now.
DAD: We all are.
MOM: Let’s talk about which kid I like the best.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

It is a truth uni­ver­sal­ly rec­og­nized, but rarely pub­lished, that for an acute­ly cal­i­brat­ed, wit­ti­ly embroi­dered appre­ci­a­tion of life’s infinite lit­tle absur­di­ties you can’t beat the com­e­dy stylings of a fun­ny gay guy. Let whim­si­cal Jew­ish gals, divert­ing bisex­u­al fel­las, and sidesplit­ting Chi­ne­se chicks com­plain of stereo­typ­ing, the fact remains: A fun­ny gay guy sees the world with lim­it­ed-edi­tion con­tact lens­es that allow him to keep his vision on two realms of sex­u­al and cul­tur­al inter­est at once — the straight world where he gets his gaudy junk mail and the gay world where he reads his love let­ters. From the inani­ties of day jobs to the snob­beries of fan­cy restau­rants, from the con­found­ing antics of par­ents to the baf­fling self-expres­sion of their adult chil­dren, it’s his abil­i­ty to see both sides that allies David Sedaris with literature’s spriest and most hilar­i­ous gay voic­es — from Oscar Wilde to Paul Rud­nick. All of Sedaris’ book are hilar­i­ous, and laugh­ing out loud while read­ing them is VERY com­mon.

Mountain Man Dance Moves edited by McSweeny’s

This book had me laugh­ing so hard I actu­al­ly peed a lit­tle. Snot also came out of my nose.

Broetry by Brian McGackin

As con­tem­po­rary poets sing the glo­ries of birds, birch trees, and men­stru­a­tion, reg­u­lar guys are left scratch­ing their heads. Who can speak for Every­man? Who will artic­u­late his love for Xbox 360, for Mama Celeste’s frozen piz­za, for the cin­e­mat­ic oeu­vre of Bruce Willis?
Enter Broetry–a stun­ning debut from a daz­zling new lit­er­ary voice. “Broet Lau­re­ate” Bri­an McGack­in goes where no poet has gone before–to Star Wars con­ven­tions, to frat par­ties, to video game tour­na­ments, and beyond. With poems like “Ode to That Girl I Dat­ed for, Like, a Mon­th Sopho­more Year” and “My Friends Who Don’t Have Stu­dent Loans,” we fol­low the Bro from his high school grad­u­a­tion and col­lege expe­ri­ence through a “quar­ter-life cri­sis” and beyond.

Secret Lives of Great Authors by Robert Schnakenberg

Schnaken­berg pack­ages the lives and loves of 41 famous writ­ers into a super­mar­ket-tabloid par­o­dy. All rumors, idio­syn­crasies, feuds, etc., are fod­der for laughs or sar­cas­tic jeers; no event is so trag­ic as to be exempt. Agatha Christie had a dis­abil­i­ty called dys­graphia and had to dic­tate all of her writ­ing. Also, both of her hus­bands cheat­ed on her. Schnaken­berg com­pares F. Scott and Zel­da Fitzger­ald to P. Did­dy and Lind­say Lohan as King and Queen of the celebri­ty par­ty cir­cuit, “astound­ing guests with their out­ra­geous, drunk­en behav­ior.” Thanks to mod­ern head­li­nes and real­i­ty TV, noth­ing here is par­tic­u­lar­ly shock­ing, but the author does show that celebri­ty is celebri­ty no mat­ter when it occurs. All read­ers will find at least a few “you have to hear this” tid­bits.

10 Best of Everything by National Geographic

This deluxe, enter­tain­ing dream guide show­cas­es the expe­ri­ence and savoir-faire of such lumi­nar­ies as Prince Charles on archi­tec­ture, Arnold Palmer on favorite golf cours­es, Bob Ell­sasser, head of the esteemed Coun­try Walk­ers, on the best walks and hik­ing tours, and Baron Philip de Roth­schild on the best vin­tages. Scores of experts name the 10 best islands, posh­est pubs and polo clubs, best things to do on Sun­days in the world’s best cities, and a trea­sure tro­ve of musts for the high-end trav­el­er or any­one who aspires to be. But there are sim­ple plea­sures that fit even the hum­blest bud­get here, too, includ­ing top-rat­ed burg­ers, flea/antique mar­kets on sev­er­al con­ti­nents, and awe-inspir­ing cathe­drals.

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1 Jun
2012

Books We Are Constantly Recommending

We get asked for book rec­om­men­da­tions all the time, and frankly it’s get­ting a lit­tle annoy­ing. What do we look like, book­sellers?! The­se are our go-to books for ques­tions like that. The­se are the kind of books I bor­row from my boss, and then watch as she suf­fers in excite­ment as I work my way through them, dying to know what I think when I fin­ish them. All the books on this list exceed­ed my expec­ta­tions, and became the books that I pass along to peo­ple and suf­fer while they fin­ish. It’s the cir­cle of life, and it moves us all.

Embassytown by China Miéville

The open­ing chap­ters of Chi­na Miéville’s nov­el throw you head­first into a dizzy­ing far-future land­scape. You’re assault­ed by invent­ed words (time is mea­sured in ‘’kilo­hours,’’ chil­dren are raised by ‘’shift-par­ents’’) with very lit­tle expla­na­tion to ground you. It doesn’t help that Miéville glee­ful­ly shuf­fles the sto­ry back and forth across time and space. You feel like a vis­i­tor to a for­eign coun­try. And you’re sup­posed to. The title of Embassy­town refers to a set­tle­ment of humans resid­ing in the mid­dle of an alien civ­i­liza­tion known as the Ariekei. The Ariekei look strange — horse­like and insec­tile — but Miéville’s most inter­est­ing cre­ation is their lan­guage: They can speak only in objec­tive truth. In one of the book’s count­less fun­ny twists, they make a nation­al sport out of try­ing, and fail­ing, to tell lies. So Embassy­town is real­ly, on many lev­els, a nov­el about lan­guage, about how dif­fer­ent cul­tures com­mu­ni­cate. Sound dry? Far from it. Miéville’s slow-burn nar­ra­tive is by turns amus­ing and hor­ri­fy­ing, mix­ing Philip K. Dick-esque satir­i­cal banal­i­ty with a mes­mer­iz­ing vision of a soci­ety on the brink of apoc­a­lypse. Yes, it’s a bit too long. But Miéville’s swing-for-the-fences gus­to thrills. This is Big Idea Sci-Fi at its most propul­sive­ly read­able.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading edited by Dave Eggers

The­se non­re­quireds have been require­ments of mine for a few years now and this might be the great­est one yet. It’s fun­ny, sad, provoca­tive, angry, and per­haps the best bunch of dis­parate writ­ings to be had this year. Hard to dis­like a book that lists, among many things, right there in the Front Sec­tion, “Best Amer­i­can Call of Duty Han­dles” and “Best Amer­i­can WiFi Net­work Names” along with some Twain quotes/passages from his auto­bi­og­ra­phy and a pro­file on M.I.A. The intro by Guiller­mo Del Toro was pret­ty sweet too.

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

Accord­ing to its fore­word, The Tragedy of Arthur is not a nov­el. It’s a hereto­fore undis­cov­ered Shake­speare play that comes pack­aged with a mas­sive book-length intro­duc­tion by ‘’inter­na­tion­al­ly best-sell­ing author Arthur Phillips.’’ Sound gim­micky? It is, but Phillips invests the metafic­tion­al games­man­ship with brac­ing intel­li­gence and gen­uine heart. The fun starts with the open­ing line — ‘’I have nev­er much liked Shake­speare’’ — and the ener­gy nev­er flags as the book devel­ops into both a lit­er­ary mys­tery and a sur­pris­ing­ly effec­tive cri­tique of the Bard.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

The nov­el fol­lows Valen­tine Michael Smith, son of the first astro­nauts to explore Mars, as he is rein­te­grat­ed into human soci­ety after being raised as a Mar­tian. Valen­tine believes in a bunch of strange things, includ­ing the right­ness and sacred­ness of con­sum­ing your friend’s flesh after he/she dies, the super­fluity of cloth­ing, and the obvi­ous self-evi­dence of an after­life, based on his expe­ri­ences on Mars. He founds the Church of All Worlds, in which sex­u­al lib­er­a­tion blends with psy­choki­ne­sis. In addi­tion to win­ning the 1962 Hugo Award for Best Nov­el, Stranger in a Strange Land is con­sid­ered a bona fide clas­sic, fre­quent­ly men­tioned on the lists of the best sci­ence fic­tion books of all time. One of its invent­ed Mar­tian words, “grok” has even entered the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary.

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

This is a clas­sic ghost sto­ry. It opens qui­et­ly as nar­ra­tor Mike Noo­nan, best­selling author of roman­tic sus­pense pot­boil­ers describes the death of his wife four years back and his con­se­quent grief and writer’s block. He resolves to work through his trou­bles at Sara Laughs, his coun­try house in back­woods Maine. Arriv­ing there, Mike near­ly dri­ves over Kyra, grand­daugh­ter (by way of beau­ti­ful young wid­ow Mat­tie) of mad com­put­er mogul Max Devore, who is hell­bent on snatch­ing the girl from her moth­er. Tak­ing up Kyra’s cause, falling in love with Mat­tie, Mike gears up for a cus­tody bat­tle. Invig­o­rat­ed, he breaks through his writer’s block; but great dan­ger, psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal, awaits, from Max Devore but espe­cial­ly from the spir­its that haunt Sara Laughs. Vio­lence, nat­u­ral and super­nat­u­ral, ensues as past and present mix, cul­mi­nat­ing in a tor­rent of cli­max­es that bind and illu­mi­nate the novel’s many mys­ter­ies. From his mint-fresh etch­ing of spooky rural Maine to his mas­ter­ful pac­ing and deft han­dling of numer­ous themes, par­tic­u­lar­ly of the fragili­ty of real­i­ty and of love’s abil­i­ty to mend, this is one of King’s most accom­plished nov­els.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

This is a big one for me, because I cant imag­ine any­one I know pick­ing up this book. Yet, I am con­stant­ly forc­ing mul­ti­ple copies upon them. “I have it in hard­cov­er, or paper­back, which would you prefer? How about both?” Yes, it is writ­ten by Stephe­nie Mey­er, of Twi­light fame. And while I read the Twi­light series, and enjoyed it, in sort of a lol­fan way, I would nev­er rec­om­mend them to any­one who isn’t a 14 year old girl who dots her i’s with hearts. The Host, on the oth­er hand, is such a good read, some­times I think that I have dreamed it. Imag­ine, if you will, that some pret­ty solid sci fi and the finest romance nov­el you can think of had a baby. A beau­ti­ful, per­fect baby. As addic­tive as crack, my hus­band banned me from re-read­ing this book for six months, as it made me cry so hard (with plea­sure) that it induced nose­bleeds. For real, I need­ed an ice pack. On bend­ed knee, I beg you, give this a chance.

Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn

I gave this to a friend. He called at 9:05 the next morn­ing with two ques­tions. Why isn’t this movie? And when can he bor­row the next book? Yorick Brown, Y, is the Earth’s last man. A non-chau­vin­is­tic plague has car­ried off every oth­er guy and the result­ing world is no dat­ing par­adise for Yorick. As bear­er of the planet’s last work­ing chro­mo­somes, he’s a weapon of mass pop­u­la­tion and he’s being sought by every gov­ern­ment hop­ing to refor­est itself. He’s also some­thing of a dweeb and he’s cer­tain­ly a cow­ard. He’s accom­pa­nied by two much sharper and braver wom­en as they set out to find the labs and sci­en­tists who can put a stop to the plague. What makes Y so much fun? At a time when the year’s biggest movies, X-Men, Super­man, Bat­man, Spi­der­man, are based on comics, here’s a sto­ry on paper that plays the game bet­ter and is about the last man of all. Start with the first, called inevitably Unmanned. Right now it’s just the most fun you could hold in your hand.

Little, Big by John Crowley

Smokey Barn­able of the great City suf­fered from a ter­ri­ble case of anonymi­ty before falling in love with the del­i­cate giantess Dai­ly Alice Drinkwa­ter and find­ing him­self part of a labyrinthine tale. He will trav­el by foot to her home at Edge­wood, a faerie-touched manse with whim­si­cal pro­por­tions, and mar­ry Dai­ly Alice. What fol­lows is a gor­geous­ly ram­bling nar­ra­tive. It’s the sto­ry you would get if Charles Dick­ens had been asked to write a fam­i­ly dra­ma about love, pass­ing sea­sons, a clock­work mod­el of the uni­verse that seems to pos­sess per­pet­u­al motion, the dark schemes of spir­its, and the roles fate ordains for us.

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1 Jun
2012

Summer Reading:
Upcoming Sequels or Movies

Pret­ty much every­one here had read The Hunger Games before there was talk of a movie, and we are pret­ty smug about it. Books are the one thing that I am actu­al­ly kind of “trendy” with, so when I get some­thing right I need peo­ple to hear about it. When the­se sequels or movies come out every­body is going to be talk­ing about the­se books, so why not get a head start? That way when every­one else is behind the times, read­ing furi­ous­ly to catch up, you will be the one sit­ting pret­ty with all the infor­ma­tion, dan­gling spoil­ers like car­rots, drop­ping hints, and with­hold­ing impor­tant infor­ma­tion for sex­u­al favors.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Does this sound famil­iar? A wom­an falls in love with a moody, chis­eled vam­pire with a great wardrobe and a quick tem­per. Of course it does, and com­par­isons between Twi­light and Deb­o­rah Hark­ness’ extra­or­di­nar­i­ly fun debut (the first in a planned tril­o­gy) are unavoid­able. But A Dis­cov­ery of Witch­es, a thor­ough­ly grown-up nov­el packed with gor­geous his­tor­i­cal detail, has a gut­sy, brainy hero­ine to match: Diana Bish­op, a renowned schol­ar of 17th cen­tu­ry chem­istry and a descen­dant of accom­plished witch­es. Diana has spent most of her life resist­ing the mag­ic with­in her. The pow­er she’s long denied swirls to the fore­front, how­ev­er, when she opens a bewitched man­u­script in Oxford’s famous Bodleian Library. Sud­den­ly every vam­pire, witch, and dae­mon (yes, they walk among us; we humans are just obliv­i­ous to their pres­ence) is up in her grill, hun­gry for the secrets she’s unknow­ing­ly unlocked. It’s 1,500-year-old vam­pire Matthew who makes the biggest impres­sion. Diana falls mad­ly for him, break­ing every rule about inter-species dat­ing. They’re a for­mi­da­ble team, which is lucky because Diana’s roil­ing pow­er has unleashed all kinds of crazy.

The sequel, Shad­ow of Night, is com­ing out July 10th, with a third and final book on the hori­zon.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Every so often a novel-reader’s nov­el comes along: an enthralling, enter­tain­ing sto­ry wed­ded to sim­ple, sup­ple prose, both informed by tremen­dous imag­i­na­tion. Sum­mer is the per­fect time for such books, and this year read­ers can enjoy the gift of Justin Cronin’s The Pas­sage. Read fif­teen pages and you will find your­self cap­ti­vat­ed; read thir­ty and you will find your­self tak­en pris­on­er and read­ing late into the night. It has the vivid­ness that only epic works of fan­ta­sy and imag­i­na­tion can achieve. What else can I say? This: read this book and the ordi­nary world dis­ap­pears.
-Stephen King

The sec­ond book in the tril­o­gy, The Twelve, is due to be released on Octo­ber 16th.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Peace-lov­ing Bil­bo Bag­gins, a hob­bit (or halfling) is liv­ing in the coun­try of the shire in Mid­dle Earth (more on that lat­er). He meets a strange wan­der­ing wiz­ard talk­ing of adven­tures; Bil­bo invites him to after­noon tea and thinks noth­ing more of it. But instead of just one wiz­ard arriv­ing at Bilbo’s house, 13 dwarves arrive as well. So begins an adven­ture beyond Bilbo’s wildest imag­in­ings. An adven­ture that takes him to the Grand House of Elrond, through the dan­ger­ous orc-infest­ed Misty Moun­tains, past the mazes of Mirk­wood and to many oth­er places as well.
The Hob­bit is a great adven­ture sto­ry and is a clas­sic as well as a must-read. I have read it 15 times. You heard me, 15 times! I don’t often read a book more than once. It sub­merges you into anoth­er world and it cap­tures your imag­i­na­tion – tak­ing you to anoth­er realm. It paints a per­fect pic­ture in your head and it has a real­ly good sto­ry line. And when you get that com­bi­na­tion in a book, you can read it over and over.
The Hob­bit was so suc­cess­ful when it was pub­lished that Tolkien was encour­aged to write a sequel, which became his mas­ter­piece: The Lord of the Rings. I love Lord of the Rings, but I haven’t read it 15 times. I think it is because there is a charm in The Hob­bit that is not matched in the sequel. So if you haven’t read Lord of the Rings yet, read The Hob­bit first. And if you have, read The Hob­bit any­way.        -Luke (Grade 5)

Peter Jackson’s movie is due out in Decem­ber.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In 1922, F. Scott Fitzger­ald announced his deci­sion to write “some­thing new–something extra­or­di­nary and beau­ti­ful and sim­ple + intri­cate­ly pat­terned.” That extra­or­di­nary, beau­ti­ful, intri­cate­ly pat­terned, and above all, sim­ple nov­el became The Great Gats­by, arguably Fitzgerald’s finest work and cer­tain­ly the book for which he is best known. A por­trait of the Jazz Age in all of its deca­dence and excess, Gats­by cap­tured the spir­it of the author’s gen­er­a­tion and earned itself a per­ma­nent place in Amer­i­can mythol­o­gy. Self-made, self-invent­ed mil­lion­aire Jay Gats­by embod­ies some of Fitzgerald’s–and his country’s–most abid­ing obses­sions: mon­ey, ambi­tion, greed, and the promise of new begin­nings. “Gats­by believed in the green light, the orgias­tic future that year by year recedes before us. It elud­ed us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms far­ther.… And one fine morn­ing–” Gatsby’s rise to glo­ry and even­tu­al fall from grace becomes a kind of cau­tion­ary tale about the Amer­i­can Dream.
Bonus Fun Fact: Hunter S. Thomp­son typed out The Great Gats­by in its entire­ty, just to get a sense of what it would be like to type out a great nov­el.

Baz Luhrman’s movie is due out in Decem­ber.

World War Z by Max Brooks

The Cri­sis” near­ly wiped out human­i­ty. Brooks (son of Mel Brooks and author of The Zom­bie Sur­vival Guide) has tak­en it upon him­self to doc­u­ment the “first hand” expe­ri­ences and tes­ti­monies of those lucky to sur­vive 10 years after the fic­ti­tious zom­bie war. Like a hor­ror fan’s ver­sion of Studs Terkel’s The Good War, the “his­tor­i­cal account” for­mat gives Brooks room to explore the zom­bie plague from numer­ous dif­fer­ent views and char­ac­ters. In a dead­pan voice, Brooks exhaus­tive­ly details zom­bie inci­dents from iso­lat­ed attacks to full-scale mil­i­tary com­bat: “what if the ene­my can’t be shocked and awed? Not just won’t, but bio­log­i­cal­ly can’t!” The “inter­views” and per­son­al accounts cap­ture the uni­ver­sal fear of the col­lapse of society–a liv­ing night­mare in which any­one can become a mind­less, insa­tiable preda­tor at a moment’s notice. Hor­ror fans won’t be dis­ap­point­ed: like George Romero’s Dead tril­o­gy, World War Z is anoth­er mile­stone in the zom­bie mythos.

The movie, star­ring Brad Pitt, is com­ing out next year.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Stephe­nie Mey­er, cre­ator of the phe­nom­e­nal teen-vamp Twi­light series, takes para­nor­mal romance into alien ter­ri­to­ry in her first adult nov­el. Those wary of sci-fi or teen angst will be pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by this mature and imag­i­na­tive thriller, pro­pelled by equal parts action and emo­tion. A species of altru­is­tic par­a­sites has peace­ful­ly assumed con­trol of the minds and bod­ies of most humans, but feisty Melanie Stry­der won’t sur­ren­der her mind to the alien soul called Wan­der­er. Over­whelmed by Melanie’s mem­o­ries of fel­low resis­tor Jared, Wan­der­er yields to her body’s long­ing and sets off into the desert to find him. Like­ly the first love tri­an­gle involv­ing just two bod­ies, it’s unabashed­ly roman­tic, and the char­ac­ters (human and alien) gen­uine­ly endear­ing. Read­ers intrigued by this famil­iar-yet-alien world will glee­ful­ly note that the story’s end leaves the door open for a sequel–or anoth­er series.

The movie is com­ing out next year.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The gods of Euro­pean yore, who came to North Amer­i­ca with their immi­grant believ­ers, are squar­ing off for a rum­ble with new indige­nous deities: “gods of cred­it card and free­way, of Inter­net and tele­phone.” They all walk around dis­guised as ordi­nary peo­ple, which caus­es no end of trou­ble for pro­tag­o­nist Shad­ow Moon, who can’t turn around with­out bump­ing into a minor divin­i­ty. Released from pris­on the day after his wife dies in a car acci­dent, Shad­ow takes a job as emis­sary for Mr. Wednes­day, avatar of the Norse god Grimnir, unaware that his boss’s recruit­ing trip across the Amer­i­can heart­land will sub­ject him to repeat vis­its from the rean­i­mat­ed corpse of his dead wife and bru­tal rough­ing up by the goons of Wednesday’s adver­sary, Mr. World. At last Shad­ow must reeval­u­ate his own deeply held beliefs in order to deter­mine his cru­cial role in the final show­down.

HBO is plan­ning a 6 sea­son mini-series.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Author Erik Lar­son imbues the incred­i­ble events sur­round­ing the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with such dra­ma that read­ers may find them­selves check­ing the book’s cat­e­go­riza­tion to be sure that The Dev­il in the White City is not, in fact, a high­ly imag­i­na­tive nov­el. Lar­son tells the sto­ries of two men: Daniel H. Burn­ham, the archi­tect respon­si­ble for the fair’s con­struc­tion, and H.H. Holmes, a seri­al killer mas­querad­ing as a charm­ing doc­tor. Burnham’s chal­lenge was immense: To con­struct the famous “White City” around which the fair was built. His efforts to com­plete the project, and the fair’s incred­i­ble suc­cess, are skill­ful­ly relat­ed along with enter­tain­ing appear­ances by such nota­bles as Buf­falo Bill Cody, Susan B. Antho­ny, and Thomas Edis­on. The activ­i­ties of the sin­is­ter Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be respon­si­ble for 20–200 mur­ders around the time of the fair, are equal­ly remark­able. He devised and erect­ed the World’s Fair Hotel, com­plete with cre­ma­to­ri­um and gas cham­ber, near the fair­grounds and used the event as well as his own charis­mat­ic per­son­al­i­ty to lure vic­tims. Com­bin­ing the sto­ries of an archi­tect and a killer in one book, most­ly in alter­nat­ing chap­ters, seems like an odd choice but it works. The mag­i­cal appeal and hor­ri­fy­ing dark side of 19th-cen­tu­ry Chicago are both revealed through Larson’s skill­ful writ­ing.

The movie, star­ring Leonar­do DiCaprio, is in pre-pro­duc­tion.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

This book is my favorite book of all time. This was THE book that intro­duced me to sci-fi. It had alot to do with shap­ing the per­son that I am today. Ender’s Game deals with a our future Earth. Aliens had attacked many years ago and almost destroyed Earth. Luck­i­ly, they were defeat­ed and Earth thrived. Today, the Earth sends the best and bright­est of its chil­dren into out­er space to Bat­tle School, in order to become mil­i­tary com­man­ders for the alien inva­sion that every­one fears will one day come. And I’m talk­ing chil­dren chil­dren, like 5 to 8 years old. The book cen­ters around one such child, Andrew Wig­gin, known by his fam­i­ly as Ender. He’s the youngest to ever be recruit­ed and the book focus­es on his tri­als and tribu­la­tions.
In my hum­ble opin­ion, this is the best sci­ence fic­tion book ever. I guar­an­tee that fans of The Hunger Games will enjoy this book. Ender’s Game is sim­i­lar to The Hunger Games (a future Earth, young kids doing things that even adults would shud­der at, adults mas­ter­mind­ing the whole thing, etc.) only it takes place in out­er space.

The movie is com­ing out next year.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Mitchell’s vir­tu­osic nov­el presents six nar­ra­tives that evoke an array of gen­res, from Melvil­lean high-seas dra­ma to Cal­i­for­nia noir and dystopi­an fan­ta­sy. There is a naïve clerk on a nine­teen­th-cen­tu­ry Poly­ne­sian voy­age; an aspir­ing com­poser who insin­u­ates him­self into the home of a syphilitic genius; a jour­nal­ist inves­ti­gat­ing a nuclear plant; a pub­lish­er with a dan­ger­ous best-sell­er on his hands; and a cloned human being cre­at­ed for slave labor. The­se five sto­ries are bisect­ed and arranged around a six­th, the his­to­ry of a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic island, which forms the heart of the nov­el. Only after this do the sec­ond halves of the sto­ries fall into place, pulling the novel’s themes into focus: the ease with which one group enslaves anoth­er, and the rewrit­ing of the past by those who con­trol the present. Again­st such forces, Mitchell’s char­ac­ters reveal a qui­et tenac­i­ty. When the clerk is told that his life amounts to “no more than one drop in a lim­it­less ocean,” he asks, “Yet what is any ocean but a mul­ti­tude of drops?”

The movie is com­ing out in Octo­ber.

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1 Jun
2012

Books to Live In

Total immer­sion and fas­ci­na­tion with a fic­tion­al world is phe­nom­e­non that is one of fiction’s great­est gifts. The pace of the plot and the depth of descrip­tion just gives you so much more to build on than what movies are able to present to you in two hours. In addi­tion, you don’t have the bias of the actor’s or director’s inter­pre­ta­tion, allow­ing you to build your own world from scratch. I love that the Hog­warts that I imag­ined looks com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than any­one else’s ver­sion. Read­ing a book can be like build­ing with Legos. You are hand­ed the pieces, but you have to build it your­self. The­se are all books where the worlds just beg to be built and rev­eled in; The kind of books that curl up in your dreams, and you can’t wait to get back into in the morn­ing.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Ok well to begin, we’re in Paris, so I don’t real­ly feel like I have to sell you on that. Unless you are soul­less, in which case this world isn’t for you.  Not only are we in Paris, but we live in the train sta­tion and attend to the many clocks (we are orphaned and that is sad but let’s move on). There is a book­seller and a bak­er, and as far as I’m con­cerned that spells dream­world. The book­store smells of “old paper, dust, and cin­na­mon”, um yes please. I love the idea of liv­ing in a world behind a world; a world of lad­ders and stairs and perch­es and places to sit and look down upon the world with­out the world know­ing, but hav­ing the option of going into that world when you need to, by way of tun­nels and cor­ri­dors only you know how to access. Secret spots are THE BEST.

Very Fond of Food by Sophie Dahl

Lets just start with a quote from the book, shall we? “The sum­mer has sloped into its rou­tine and every­one has, by then, either found their feet, or lost their shoes. It is a time for brief, heady love. If you’re a teenager, per­haps with a per­son whose lan­guage escapes you, but whose eyes say it all. If you are old­er, but may­be not wis­er, its a place, a meal, a time, which swoops you up and makes you gid­dy, cradling you in the tran­sient cup of infat­u­a­tion. Every­thing feels pos­si­ble in the sum­mer.” Dude. Yeah, this is a cook­book. Besides for this being the exact way I feel about sum­mer, this cook­book is filled with a mil­lion gor­geous recipes and pho­tos. And lots of oth­er sexy prose, which is just what you would expect from Roald Dahl’s grand­daugh­ter. (Insert fan­girl squeal here)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This is one of the most beloved sci-fi books of all time. There is even a hol­i­day, Tow­el Day, on May 25th to cel­e­brate how awe­some this book is. I would love to trav­el around the galaxy with just my tow­el and my guide­book. Here’s the thing about the galaxy: It is very big and it has lots of stuff in it. Read­ing this book makes you think about how small the Earth is, and how it doesn’t real­ly have very much stuff in it. It cer­tain­ly doesn’t have Babel Fish, Vogon poet­ry, or Infinite-Prob­a­bil­i­ty dri­ves. This book makes you feel like you are miss­ing out on so much by being stuck here on Earth, and Earth is not such a good place to be in this book. It tends to get entire­ly blown up in the first 30 pages, which is fine because the galaxy is very big and it has lots of stuff in it.

The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett

This book is spe­cial to me. Every time I gar­den, which is pret­ty often(!), I think of Mary, and the mag­ic and mys­tery that shaped her life. So many things I adore, can be traced back to here, gar­den­ing (natch), love of Eng­lish cul­ture, love of wood­land crea­tures (squir­rels not includ­ed. Any gar­den­er would say the same), believ­ing in hap­py end­ings, and the pow­er of friend­ship to shape lives in a pos­i­tive way. I stole this next line from an edi­to­ri­al review, but to me it says it all.  “For any­one who has ever felt afraid to live and love, The Secret Garden’s por­tray­al of reawak­en­ing spir­its will thrill and reju­ve­nate.”

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman has called this The Jun­gle Book in a grave­yard, and its a pret­ty good com­par­ison. This is the sto­ry of Nobody Owens, a boy who was raised by the res­i­dents of a grave­yard. He has adven­tures with vam­pires, were­wolves, hanged witch­es, ancient pagan demons, and all sorts of ghosts and ghouls. He devel­ops the pow­ers of the grave­yard, like haunt­ing, dreamwalk­ing, and turn­ing invis­i­ble. The ghosts of this grave­yard don’t want to scare you, or spook you, or give you “the willies”, they just want to be left alone to tend to their frontages and gos­sip. It’s pret­ty much the cutest, cozi­est grave­yard of all time and I want to live there so bad­ly that I spend all my time hang­ing out in the mid­dle of the road and at small­pox lab­o­ra­to­ries.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

A fleet of ships made of salt water dur­ing a naval bat­tle fools one side into think­ing they are out­num­bered and the bat­tle is won. Stat­ues inside a cathe­dral come alive to tell the tales of what they’ve seen. Roads that lead in and out of mir­rors, king­doms that appear and dis­ap­pear with the flip of the tongue. This is mag­ic that wins wars; England’s army has its own magi­cian, and I WANT TO BE HIS FRIEND. Mr. Nor­rell and his pro­tege Jonathan Strange spend hours upon deli­cious cozy hours in Mr. Norrell’s end­less library where they do research by can­dle­light on the his­to­ry of mag­ic and dis­cuss how to bring mag­ic back to Eng­land. I loved the place that this book took me; I would slip into a dif­fer­ent his­to­ry rich with unbe­liev­able detail and full of mys­te­ri­ous prophe­cies so deeply that I some­times had to remind myself that it wasn’t actu­al his­to­ry. Clarke has cre­at­ed a world where mag­ic real­ly seems pos­si­ble, prac­ti­cal, and schol­ar­ly, but of course this land­scape becomes com­pli­cat­ed by the exis­tence of the eerie land of Fairie, a place not meant for humans.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Every­body wants to receive a let­ter on their 11th birth­day that tells them they are a witch or a wiz­ard and they are going to Hog­warts. If that isn’t your life’s ambi­tion then I pity you. The­se books are well-suit­ed to re-read­ing, not only because the sto­ry is too good to read just once, but details you passed over the first time became more impor­tant as the entire series was released. It is the details that bring this book to life, like the descrip­tions of the shops in Diagon Alley, the paint­ings on the walls of Hog­warts, or the many hilar­i­ous, semi-use­ful spells they learn. Cham­ber of Secrets is so good because Har­ry is still bewil­dered by the world or wiz­ards and witch­es, and all the­se details stand out so much more when they are new, both for the char­ac­ters and the read­er.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Ok. Pic­ture this. Metaphors and turns of phrase come to life in the land beyond the toll­booth; you’ve got the Island of Con­clu­sions and to get there you jump, but that’s if you can get beyond Expec­ta­tions. If you make it to Dic­tio­nop­o­lis you can go to the Word Mar­ket where you can buy fresh picked ifs, and or buts, or you could nib­ble on the let­ter A which is “quite sweet and deli­cious” as opposed to the “dry and saw­dusty” Z, or try a crispy, crunchy C! Ok. Let’s get seri­ous. Chap­ter 10: A Col­or­ful Sym­pho­ny. Sit and watch thou­sands of musi­cians con­duct the sun­set in silence, watch the col­or fade as the orches­tra grows qui­eter and qui­eter until it’s night. Then vis­it Dig­i­topolis where the Math­ema­gi­cian mines and pol­ish­es num­bers, using bro­ken ones for frac­tions. This world is so play­ful and there is a sur­prise around every cor­ner, you just have to real­ize you’re already in it!

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1 Jun
2012

Get Hooked on Authors

When we do some­thing, we do it all the way. We read one book by P.G. Wode­house, and then we have to read them all. Our book aisle reflects this, as you may have noticed. We have stacks upon stacks of authors and series, but it can be tough to fig­ure out where to start. Prob­lem solved. The­se are all good start­ing points for authors or series that we real­ly must insist you get into. That way when we talk about them we don’t have to wor­ry about “spoil­ers”.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

This may be Agatha Christie’s most well-known book, although there are cer­tain­ly many oth­er great books to choose from. The detec­tive in this sto­ry is Her­cule Poirot, that dig­ni­fied Bel­gian detec­tive who solves mur­ders with his famous “lit­tle grey cells”. Christie has writ­ten more books about Her­cule Poirot than most peo­ple have writ­ten books peri­od, and she has sev­er­al oth­er detec­tives as well. In this book, Poirot spoils anoth­er per­fect mur­der, the kind that could only appear in fic­tion, the set­ting and the char­ac­ters are rich and won­der­ful, and as usu­al, you will nev­er guess who the mur­der­er is. Unless, of course, you have seen one of the many film or tv adap­ta­tions. Once you fin­ish I promise that you will be dying to read more about Her­cule Poirot, or Miss Marple, or any Agatha Christie book.

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

We may car­ry more Wode­house books than almost any oth­er author. The­se make for great sum­mer reads because they are all col­lec­tions of sto­ries, and you don’t have to read them in any par­tic­u­lar order. The­se books are con­cerned with the wealthy and scat­ter­brained Bertie Woost­er, the unfor­tu­nate sit­u­a­tions he and his equal­ly wealthy and scat­ter­brained friends get into, and how his inge­nious valet, Jeeves, gets him out of them. You can start with any book, but we rec­om­mend this one because although it wasn’t the first book pub­lished, the first sto­ry in this book explains how Jeeves came to work for Bertie Woost­er. The­se books are pil­lars or humor writ­ing in gen­er­al, and British humor specif­i­cal­ly, and we have plen­ty more to choose from when you fin­ish this one.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

You are prob­a­bly aware that this is a series on HBO. As with every­thing else on TV, the books are so much bet­ter. The TV series is long, but they still have to con­dense things enor­mous­ly. They show prob­a­bly one in ten sce­nes, and they aren’t even the good ones. I picked this book up, and before I even knew it I had fin­ished the entire pub­lished series. All 4884 pages of it. You would think a series that long would get bor­ing, but despite the daunt­ing length, the char­ac­ters, set­tings, and major plot points all change so fre­quent­ly that I was con­sis­tent­ly enthralled and dying to know what was going to hap­pen next. When Dance with Drag­ons final­ly arrived I faked an ill­ness at work and went home to read it, some­thing I haven’t done since Har­ry Pot­ter. If you are already a fan of the HBO series, you should read the books, not only to find out what will hap­pen next, but to find out what you missed. If you aren’t a fan of the series: What are you? Nuts?

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

This was my intro­duc­tion to Von­negut. It’s one of those rare and won­der­ful books in the same vein as Ani­mal Farm: sim­ple prose, easy to read, yet with iron­ic tinges and thought-pro­vok­ing depths; a nov­el that can be read and enjoyed at many dif­fer­ent lev­els. It is one of Vonnegut’s most enter­tain­ing nov­els,  and is filled with sci­en­tists and G-men and even ordi­nary folks get caught up in the game. The­se assort­ed char­ac­ters chase each oth­er around in search of the world’s most impor­tant and dan­ger­ous sub­stance, “Ice Nine”, a new form of ice that freezes at room tem­per­a­ture. At one time, this nov­el could prob­a­bly be found on the book­shelf of every col­lege kid in Amer­i­ca; but it’s still a fab­u­lous read and a great place to start if you want to get into Von­negut.

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers

This book is on the Book­sellers 100 great­est mys­ter­ies, and is super great. But real­ly, any of the Lord Peter Whim­sy mys­ter­ies, writ­ten by Dorothy Say­ers, are hook-tas­tic. I love Lord Peter so much, I’m stalk­ing him in blog form. Because if it’s in blog form, its less creepy! He col­lects first edi­tions, (me too, and because of him) has an exten­sive knowl­edge of fine wines, (I’m work­ing on it, main­ly by drink­ing lots) and oth­er culi­nary mat­ters, played world class crick­et for Oxford, (why I watch crick­et) and he has a superla­tive manser­vant, Bun­ter (still look­ing for my manser­vant, so if any­one out there lives to serve, call me). And Lord P. isn’t a Nan­cy Boy, in fact he is kind of a bad-ass, albeit a smar­ty-pants one. Best of all, he has the most attrac­tive (to me) of traits, a wry and self-dep­re­cat­ing sense of humor.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

If you think non-fic­tion books are stuffy and bor­ing, then you will find Erik Larson’s books refresh­ing. His books have a strong nar­ra­tive, his char­ac­ters are deep and engross­ing, and con­tains exten­sive sources. This book is set in Berlin dur­ing the rise of Adolf Hitler, and con­cerns the Amer­i­can ambas­sador to Ger­many along with his fam­i­ly, specif­i­cal­ly his flam­boy­ant daugh­ter Martha. You don’t read a lot about this peri­od in his­to­ry, prob­a­bly because peo­ple don’t want to admit the extent to which peo­ple ignored or com­plied with Hitler. There are no real heroes in this sto­ry. We all know how things turn out, and nobody comes to the res­cue. But, it’s easy to look back and point out people’s fail­ures are short­com­ings, and this book doesn’t do any of that. You real­ize that even some of the facil­i­ta­tors of Hitler’s rise where just reg­u­lar folks, even­tu­al­ly swept away when they had a change of heart. If you like this book, read his oth­er books, and keep an ear out for him on NPR, where he is a real treat to hear.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I grew up on Greek mythol­o­gy. I must have read D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths a thou­sand times. The­se sto­ries are the back­bone on which all oth­er sto­ries are built, some more than oth­ers. The Light­ning Thieft belongs in the “more” cat­e­go­ry. This series is about the orphan chil­dren of the Gods of Olym­pus, and their bat­tles again­st oth­er gods and ancient mon­sters. The­se are great books for peo­ple who are dorks and proud of it. For me it was fun to rec­og­nize all the ref­er­ences, and see how Rior­dan twist­ed them just right to fit them into a book for kids. He obvi­ous­ly knows his mythol­o­gy (he has made a career out of it three times over) and even though the gods appear in a mod­ern set­ting, he stays pret­ty true to the way I remem­ber them from the sto­ries. For exam­ple: Medusa owns a gar­den sup­ply store that sells incred­i­bly life-like stat­ues. Did I men­tion this book was for dorks? Take a quick look at the chap­ter titles if you don’t believe me. When you fin­ish this five-part series you can jump right into one of his new­er, ongo­ing series about Egyp­tian and Roman myths.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

The author describes this book as “Die Hard, with faeries” and that was enough to get me to read it. Die Hard with any­thing sounds pret­ty good to me. Not to be nit-picky, but it’s more like “Ocean’s Eleven” with faeries. Artemis Fowl is a child crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind, which is a pret­ty rare com­bi­na­tion. He comes from a long, illus­tri­ous line of crim­i­nal mas­ter­minds, and Artemis plans to make his name by steal­ing from the mag­i­cal crea­tures who live under­ground, unbe­known­st to most humans. But steal­ing from mag­i­cal crea­tures isn’t quite as easy as the Lucky Charms ads make it seem. After all, the famous LEP­re­con unit is a highy trained tac­ti­cal respon­se team. As the series goes on, the char­ac­ters remain large­ly the same, but Artemis starts to grow up a bit, learn the dif­fer­ence between good and bad, and help pro­tect the mag­i­cal crea­tures from the humans. The final book in this eight-part series is due on July 10th, leav­ing you plen­ty of time to read the oth­er sev­en.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

And who is this Neil Gaiman I keep hear­ing about?” I asked myself about 6 years ago. (I know, I know. I’m behind all major trends, just like nor­mal. No new news there) Anan­si Boys is the first Neil Gaiman I read, the book that got me hooked on NG, (at Kards Unlim­it­ed we now refer to him as “my boyfriend”. Speak­ing of creepy stalk­ing) and is a book I straight up love. Every­thing about it fills me with a chortling delight. It is a gig­gle, sum­mer read­ing on steroids. In fact, I first read it on the beach in Bermu­da, and when I fin­ished, I read it again, right away. There are more impor­tant NG books (Amer­i­can Gods, also SUPER, but dark­er) and its hard to go wrong with any­thing he has writ­ten. (Also, read Nev­er­where, and Smoke and Mir­rors. DO IT NOW!) Neil Gaiman is the author I wish I could read for the first time, again. *sob*

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

A world where wars are fought over lit­er­ary mat­ters such as the true author of Shake­speare­an works? Do go on. Thurs­day Next is a Lit­er­ary Detec­tive, or Lit­er­aTec, who trav­els in and out of nov­els to catch her vil­lain before too much dam­age is done. This is an action book for the lit­er­ary elite, and it is glo­ri­ous. Fforde sets the scene in the first book for many mys­ter­ies to unfold in the course of the series. This series is so reward­ing not only for its many ref­er­ences and nods to lit­er­a­ture and his­to­ry, but because you can have a fun sum­mer read with­out feel­ing 50 shades of trashy, no offense. This is so clev­er I nev­er want­ed it to end; and now it doesn’t have to because there are more to come! In the lat­est nov­el the fic­tion­al Thurs­day Next must come into the Real World to help solve the mys­tery of her counterpart’s dis­ap­pear­ance!

The next book in the series, The Wom­an Who Died A Lot, is com­ing out Octo­ber 2nd.

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1 Jun
2012

Summer Reading:
Best One-Day Reads

Sum­mer is one time of year where I often wake up in the morn­ing and just want to read and drink deli­cious iced tea all day (or how about some­thing a lit­tle stronger?). Oth­er times of year I enjoy this include spring, fall, and win­ter, but it is real­ly best in sum­mer. There is noth­ing like pick­ing up a book in the morn­ing and not putting it down again until you have fin­ished. This is not a list of short books, it is a list of books that are so good they demand to be fin­ished in one day. Most of the­se books will lead you to oth­er books as well. This is also a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to try some­thing you may not nor­mal­ly read. You may actu­al­ly like ghost sto­ries, and if you don’t it’s only one day.

Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon’s first nov­el, which he began writ­ing when he was an under­grad at Pitt, is a com­ing of age sto­ry, set in 1980’s Pitts­burgh. For me, it was like a man­u­al for brav­ing the angst, thrills, luna­cy, and sor­row of young adult­hood.  An indis­putably tal­ent­ed writer, Chabon brings new focus to com­mon YA themes, such as break­ing away from fam­i­ly, explor­ing sex­u­al­i­ty, and fac­ing the future. This was my Catcher in the Rye. (Don’t you hate it when peo­ple say that!?)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Young Adult books are easy picks for one-day reads, but not all of them can be ful­ly enjoyed by adults. A Wrin­kle in Time is the ice cream of books: It doesn’t take any effort to con­sume it, but the pay­off is huge. This was a book for peo­ple who like to think their way out of prob­lems, rather than just hulk-smash­ing all obsta­cles out of the way. The sto­ry is poet­ic, the main char­ac­ters are the right kind of eccen­tric, and it starts off by say­ing “It was a dark and stormy night”. If you prefer your fan­ta­sy fic­tion with a healthy dose of physics and math and guid­ed by a strong moral com­pass, then this is the book for you.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Ladies – this is a great sum­mer read, you won’t be able to put it down! It’s the sto­ry of a young girl, Lily, who leaves her abu­sive father and sets off on her own search­ing for answers about her deceased moth­er. She is tak­en in by a fam­i­ly of three black sis­ters liv­ing in the deep south dur­ing a time of seri­ous racial unrest. Lily is put to work in their hon­ey house for the sum­mer and begins a won­der­ful jour­ney of self dis­cov­ery in wom­en, fam­i­ly, love and trust. I swear you can actu­al­ly smell the hon­ey from the bees and feel the swel­ter­ing heat of the south in sum­mer! I ran out and got The Mer­maid Chair (by Sue Monk Kidd) the very day I fin­ished this – I couldn’t get enough! The Mer­maid Chair was great, but not as affec­tive and haunt­ing as The Secret Life of BeesLOVED IT!

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Although I’m typ­i­cal­ly not much for short sto­ries, the plea­sure in the­se (as in Bradbury’s oth­er stel­lar short sto­ry col­lec­tion, The Illus­trat­ed Man) is that they are inter­con­nect­ed by both a com­mon the­me and shared emo­tion­al sub­text, mak­ing them more of a new kind of nov­el, rather than just sto­ries. Ray Brad­bury is my sci­ence fic­tion BF, (no offence, Robert Hein­lein, I <3 you, too) because he writes SF as a poet would, not so much con­cerned with the sci­ence, as the hopes and dreams of human­i­ty and beyond. Fun Fact: The sto­ry Mars is Heav­en, plays a key roll in my favorite Stephen King book, Bag of Bones. While you are read­ing, read that too.

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons

I picked up this book, because Stephen King rec­om­mends it as one of his favorite haunt­ed house nov­els (His oth­er favorite is The Haunt­ing of Hill House, by Shirley Jack­son. Read that too, but The House Next Door is bet­ter). After read­ing it, you can cer­tain­ly see why. Our nar­ra­tor, Colquitt and her hus­band Wal­ter live an idyl­lic sub­ur­ban life, until the emp­ty lot next to their house is bought by a young cou­ple and built upon, by a genius, wun­derkind, archi­tect. Stuff hap­pens, lets just say that. The most bril­liant exam­ple of sun­l­it hor­ror, I have ever read, this book is just as much about the human con­di­tion, what makes us tick, and what can break us, as it is about hor­ror. Although, it’s hor­ri­ble. In a good way. I have rec­om­mend­ed this book to many friends, who have all loved it, except for one, who said she had to stop read­ing because it was too creepy. Be warned.

Company by Max Barry &
Apathy by Paul Neilan 

This is the per­fect pair to read in tandem, so allow two days.  Jones, the hero of Com­pa­ny, is just that, a hero. We fol­low him from his first day at the mys­te­ri­ous Zephyr Hold­ings, start­ing with the “dough­nut cri­sis that rocked the world”, and through all kinds of cor­po­rate cul­ture strate­gies designed to turn this (rel­a­tive­ly) fresh faced go-get­ter, into just anoth­er brick in the wall. Why would a com­pa­ny want to suck the souls from their employ­ees? The answer sur­prised and pleased me! You will root for Jones all the way.
On the oth­er hand, Shane, the “hero” of Apa­thy, is the most unlik­able, hor­ri­ble per­son, may­be ever. The fact that he has the most mind numb­ing cor­po­rate job you could imag­ine, will not arouse your sym­pa­thy for this HUGE LOSER, because his every prob­lem is caused by his own huge loser ways. And, Shane steals salt shak­ers, lots of them. And a char­ac­ter has a B&D rela­tion­ship with a guinea pig. And all afflic­tions pos­si­ble, includ­ing deaf­ness and the men­tal­ly chal­lenged, are HARDCORE mocked. And there is a mur­der mys­tery. Apa­thy is quite sim­ply the fun­ni­est book I have ever read. It may not be for every­one, but if you read it and like it, come sit by me. We should hang out more. So, there you have it, two minor mas­ter­pieces of cor­po­rate satire, for your sum­mer read­ing plea­sure.

Horns by Joe Hill

Even though this is NOT anoth­er tandem review, it is worth not­ing that I read this book the day after I fin­ished The Pas­sage, by Justin Cron­in, an odyssey of a book, whose post-apoc­a­lyp­tic, dystopi­an ways kept me up for many a night. Not a review for that book, but go read it right now! BUT, I DIGRESS.… Horns, on the oth­er hand, is a dit­ty of a book by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son, BTW) that was the per­fect refresh­er after the 784 pages of The Pas­sage. The pro­tag­o­nist, Ignatius Per­rish, awak­ens, after a drunk­en night of doing awful things he cant quite remem­ber (been there) with a hang­over to end all hang­overs, and a pair of horns grow­ing out of his tem­ples. And, dev­il­ish pow­ers to match. This book pos­es the ques­tion, what if a basi­cal­ly good guy, who has had some bad luck, was grant­ed the pow­er of evil? A very inter­est­ing char­ac­ter study, by a guy who can real­ly write. Also, read Joe Hill’s oth­er book, Heart Shaped Box. Just say­in’.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

I think of Agatha Christie as a quin­tes­sen­tial one day read, and Death on the Nile is my favorite.
Exotic locale? Check. Love? Check. Mur­der and plen­ty of it? Check. You sus­pect every­one, and will nev­er guess the cul­prit? Dou­ble check! Read­ing any Agatha Christie makes me want to drink lit­er­al­ly gal­lons of hot, strong, sweet tea. You have per­mis­sion to switch to iced tea for sum­mer read­ing.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

This was my favorite book as a kid, and I have re-read it many times since then. In my opin­ion this is the best of the children’s fan­ta­sy series. This book owes a lot to Tolkien, but what fan­ta­sy book doesn’t? They both share a foun­da­tion in Welsh mythol­o­gy, so the con­nec­tion goes beyond swords and dark lords. I like heroes who make dumb mis­takes, learn from them, and even­tu­al­ly suc­ceed, and the hero of Lloyd Alexander’s Pry­dain Series, Taran, cer­tain­ly fits that descrip­tion. He starts as a down­right dufus. Nev­er­the­less, you root for him through­out the series as he gath­ers skills and meets friends of all kinds, includ­ing my favorite, Gurgi, who is sort of like Gol­lum mixed with a loy­al pooch. A dirty one. You may be remind­ed of Tolkien at first (and is that such a bad thing?) but Pry­dain is a land all its own, and at its core, the Pry­dain series is all about grow­ing up, for all the char­ac­ters in the books. If you like the first one, there are four more, all of which are one-day reads, and the final book is the best one.

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