9 Oct

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

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

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.
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

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

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

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

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

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 Bees… LOVED 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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