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June 2012

How I Wrote It: Karen Thompson Walker on "The Age of Miracles"

Walker2Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles was selected as our Best Books of the Month Spotlight for June. A few weeks ago, at the annual Book Expo America convention in New York, Amazon senior editor Mari Malcolm spoke with Thompson Walker about the origins of the book, which she wrote in the mornings before working as a book editor at Simon & Schuster. The Age of Miracles has been hailed as "a precocious debut ... one of this summer’s hot literary reads” (The New York Times), "quietly explosive" (O, The Oprah Magazine) and "a coming-of-age tale that asks whether it's worth coming of age at all in a world that might end at any minute" (Amazon's Kevin Nguyen).


Karen Thompson Walker reads an excerpt from The Age of Miracles:


Charles Duhigg's "The Power of Habit" Makes the 2012 Best Books of the Year So Far



The Amazon editors have announced the 2012 Best Books of the Year So Far (more on that next week). Here's an interview with Charles Duhigg, #20 on the list of the best books we've read from 2012 (so far).

Duhigg's book has a simple premise that can change your life in profound ways. He's also a smart and affable guy, who was a pleasure to spend time with. We hope he makes a habit (ahem) of visiting the Amazon offices.

The Best Books of the Year So Far program is composed of a top 20 list, along with top 10 selections in 13 categories. We like to think there's something for everyone in there. Have a look for yourself.


Alex Stone Performs an Impressive Card Trick for Daniel Handler

During Amazon editors' recent visit to the annual Book Expo America convention in New York, we had the great pleasure of watching Alex Stone--author of Fooling Houdini, one of our Best Books of the Month for June--perform this amazing, Amazon-themed card trick for Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snickett).

Be sure to watch through to the end to hear Daniel exclaim, "Wow! You're astonishing! It's magic!"

Graphic Novel Friday: Best of the Year So Far

Our Best of the Year So Far store launched earlier this week with editors’ picks across many subject categories and an overall Top 20, and the Comics and Graphic Novels selections highlight what’s made 2012 an already fantastic and diverse year for the medium.

  1. Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown
  2. Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel
  3. Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang
  4. King City by Brandon Graham
  5. Avengers: The Children's Crusade by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung
  6. Jim Henson's Tale of Sand by Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, and Ramon Perez
  7. The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons by Russ Kick
  8. Harvey Pekar's Cleveland by Harvey Pekar and Joseph Remnant
  9. The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist by Alvin Buenaventura
  10. Mr. Twee Deedle: Raggedy Ann's Sprightly Cousin: The Forgotten Fantasy Masterpieces of Johnny Gruelle by Johnny Gruelle and Rick Marschall

With the success of Joss Whedon’s film, The Avengers, and the impending releases of The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man, superheroes are still the most public-facing comic characters. If you are looking for actual comics to supplement that blockbuster rush, then the revamped Wonder Woman and the next generation of Avengers (see also our Omni spotlight) should be at the top of your summer reading list.

If your tastes run more literary and autobiographical, Alison Bechdel’s Are you My Mother: A Comic Drama is filled with enough familial anxiety to satisfy readers until the annual holiday get-togethers begin, and Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland offers one last sardonic look at life through the eyes of the departed Pekar. On the academic front, the first volume in editor Russ Kick’s ambitious Graphic Canon series showcases historic literary moments, from The Odyssey to Shakespeare, told through the medium of comics.  

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Best of the Year So Far" »

Come Back and See Us Soon, Ernie. And Bring Your DeLorean.

51bE6SBNroL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Last year Ernie Cline, one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet and the author of the hit novel Ready Player One, stopped in Seattle to visit me and my fellow Amazon editor Neal Thompson. We decided to do an interview at the Experience Music Project, a museum in Seattle that also houses the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Since Ernie's book is a science fiction novel, we thought it would be a natural place to film our conversation.

It turned out to be a great day. As music boomed through the rooms and we walked and talked next to full-sized Battlestar Galactica Vipers and Cylons, one of the things that came up was Ernie's intention to acquire and revamp a DeLorean so that he could use it to tour the country in promotion of his book. Cool, we said. Stop by when you come back through. And Ernie did pass back through Seattle recently to promote the paperback release of Ready Player One... unfortunately, I was out of town. So I missed Ernie and I missed his DeLorean.

You, dear reader, might be more lucky than that. Check out the video below that explains how Ernie Cline is giving away a tricked-out DeLorean to someone who can find an Easter Egg hidden in his book. That Easter Egg will lead to a website where you must beat three increasingly difficult video game challenges. It's like something out of his own book. And like Ernie, it's creative, a little eccentric, and really cool.



Here's the video from the day we spent with Ernie...

Best Children's Books of the Year So Far

At last summer is in full swing (though Seattle weather has a little catching up to do) and the first half of the year is almost behind us, which means it's time for one of my favorite annual activities: looking back over six months of books and putting together our Best of the Year So Far lists.

Our top 10 list of the best picture books is topped by The Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, William Joyce's latest picture book extravaganza, the animated short film version of which won Joyce an Academy Award® earlier this year.  I had the chance to sit down with this delightful author a couple weeks ago at Book Expo America in New York and we talked about how Hurricane Katrina helped inspire the book (Joyce is a Louisianan) and what it was like to take home an Oscar®--it's a great story, you can watch it in the video at the end of this post.

A debut novel was our number one for middle grade, Wonder captured our hearts and the hearts of readers everywhere.  This touching story is bigger than a book about bullying or making superficial judgements and feels like an instant classic.  I sincerely hope we see it on the Newbery list in January.

There are other books that I really wanted to squeeze in somehow, but #10.1 (.2, .3...) didn't fly.   What children's books would you add to this list, and did some of ours make your best of 2012 picks?

Best Books of the Year So Far: Picture Books

  1. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, co-illustrated by Joe Bluhm
  2. The Cloud Spinner written by Michael Catchpool, illustrated by Alison Jay
  3. Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
  4. Z Is for Moose written by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
  5. Gem by Holly Hobbie
  6. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons written by James Dean, illustrated by Eric Litwin
  7. The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems
  8. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind written by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
  9. Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton
  10. Crafty Chloe written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Heather Ross

Best Books of the Year So Far: Middle Grade Books

  1. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  2. See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles
  3. Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
  4. The Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan
  5. Chomp by Carl Hiaasen
  6. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  7. The Case of the Deadly Desperados: Western Mysteries, Book One by Caroline Lawrence
  8. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
  9. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  10. Deadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg, Book 1 by Geoff Rodkey


Summer Reading Author Exclusive: Kate DiCamillo

It's hard to believe that Kate DiCamillo's first book, the one she started 10 years after deciding to pursue writing by purchasing some black turtlenecks (watch the video below and you'll understand), was the Newbery Honor winner, Because of Winn-Dixie. It was an auspicious start to her career as an author and in the 18 years since, DiCamillo has written many more beloved books for early readers and middle graders, including The Tale of Despereaux which took home the Newbery Medal. 

Kate DiCamillo is our featured author this week and though she may have abandoned the black turtlenecks she still writes two pages a day, the same as when her writing career really began. In the exclusive video below, created just for Summer Reading, DiCamillo answers questions we gathered from our Facebook fans, and talks about some of her favorite books to recommend for summer.  Do you have a favorite Kate DiCamillo book on your summer reading list? 

Kate DiCamillo Recommends:


YA Wednesday: A Guest Post From Richelle Mead

The Vampire Academy series may be over, but Richelle Mead has fans new and old hooked on The Golden Lily, the second book in her spin-off series.

We asked Mead if she would do a guest post for us answering commonly asked questions from her fans.  She sent us the guest post below answering one question in particular and you can see her answering others in a special video at the end.

Music plays an important role in any young adult's life (and the music of those years often remains beloved long after it's become embarrassing) so it's no surprise that the question Mead chose to share with us is about what music she listens to while writing. After reading the post below I feel like I have some insight into her Bloodlines characters--do any of the  song/character match-ups below really surprise you?  

People often ask me what I listen to while I write, and the answer is kind of boring: nothing. I have to have silence while I write, or else I get distracted. But, when I’m out and about in my car or at the gym, I listen to a lot of music and can do some of my best “mental writing” when I hear songs that remind me of characters or scenes. In honor of The Golden Lily’s release, here are the top five songs that most remind me of the book’s main characters.


Song: “Other Side of the World” by KT Tunstall

This song is actually about a long distance relationship, but a lot of the lyrics remind me of Sydney. The lines that struck me the most when I first heard it were: “She’s waiting like an iceberg/Waiting to change/But she’s cold inside/She wants to be like the water.” There’s so much longing in that, and it perfectly describes Sydney. She puts on such a proper—and yes, at times cold—face for the world, and there are moments when she almost believes that she truly is cold on the inside. But, as the book progresses, we—and Sydney—see that there’s so much more to her. There’s a vivid, passionate nature within her that’s waiting to be released, and the song’s mood captures her yearning for that.


Song: “Hurricane Drunk” by Florence and the Machine

This is a harsh song, a song of self-destruction and the pain of losing love. It definitely describes Adrian’s mood through much of the original Vampire Academy series and the Bloodlines series. He keeps experiencing all these hurts and throws himself into the aftermath full force, almost as if he’s relishing—or maybe challenging—his pain: “No walls can keep me protected/No sleep, nothing in between me and the rain/And you can’t save me now.” These dark moods of his both fascinate us and make us ache for him. I wish I could say the storms are over for him, but he’s still got a few to endure. Hang in there, though, because he might eventually get some sun.


Song: “Hero” by Nickelback

Yeah, I admit it: I’m a Nickelback fan. I like this song for Eddie because he is a real-life hero. He’s tough and brave and trying very hard to be a “mini-Dimitri.”  But what really hit me when I took a closer look at these lyrics was this verse: “Now that the world isn’t ending/It’s love that I’m sending to you/It isn’t the love of a hero/And that’s why I fear it won’t do.” In many ways, that perfectly describes Eddie’s feelings for Jill. He doesn’t think he’s good enough for her—or rather, he doesn’t think Eddie the man, the ordinary dhampir, is good enough for her. And so, he refuses to acknowledge his feelings and focuses solely on being a perfect, larger than life guardian because that’s all he thinks he can be for her.


Song: “Just a Girl” by No Doubt

When thinking of a song for Jill—sweet, innocent Jill—I immediately figured I’d go with some plaintive ballad.  Then, I remembered this song and realized that my initial instinct for her is exactly what this song is describing: everyone writes her off as this helpless young creature that has to be sheltered. “Oh, I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite/So don’t let me have any rights.”  This has been the story of Jill’s life since she found out she was royalty. Everyone’s been making her decisions for her and moving her around like a game piece. The interesting thing is that as the song goes, we start to see the tone become defiant: “Oh, I’ve had it up to here.” The song’s singer isn’t going to put up with the coddling anymore…and neither is Jill.


Song: “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette

Angeline’s song is another that surprised me. When you think of her, the kneejerk reaction is some angry girl song or “Wild Thing.”  But I actually lean toward this song because it’s about the contradictions we all carry inside of us. “I’m green but I’m wise/I’m hard but I’m friendly baby/I’m sad but I’m laughing.” Angeline is no different. She puts on a tough exterior but is secretly terrified of the new world she’s in. She acts brash but is cool and collected in a fight. We’re going to see more and more of the real Angeline and learn that she’s a lot more than just a backwoods girl who’s good for comic relief.

--Richelle Mead



Best Teen Books of 2012 So Far

This week we announced our Top 10 list of the Best Books of the Year So Far in Teens, and let me just say that 2012 has been a great year for YA. 

The Hunger Games movie in the spring ushered in a wave of awareness for YA fiction the likes of which we haven't seen since Twilight--and The Hunger Games has arguably stronger gender neutral appeal-- so it's exciting to see more adults discovering how good teen/YA books can be. 

Our number one pick in teens for the first half of 2012 is a prime example of a book that works so well for older readers that it made it on the adult Top 20--in the number three spot, no less.  In fact, the top three books of the Best of the Year So Far in Teens also debuted on our adult Best Books of the Month list in the month they released. 

As you might imagine, it was hard to whittle down six months of fantastic reads to only 10 books, but the final list includes titles that range from dystopian fantasy to contemporary fiction and every one comes highly recommended.

Best Books of the Year So Far in Teens:

  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  2. Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo
  3. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman
  4. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  5. Pandemonium (Delirium) by Lauren Oliver
  6. Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I by R. L. LaFevers
  7. The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer Nielsen
  8. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  9. Insurgent (Divergent Trilogy) by Veronica Roth
  10. Starters by Lissa Price

Did we miss any of your top 10 favorite books of 2012?  Any predictions about which of these will end up with a place on the final Best of 2012 list at the end of the year?

Nora Ephron (1941 - 2012)

Nora_ephronI loved Nora Ephron. I loved her long before she got sick, and long before I'd actually met her. Like many, many women my age, I wanted to be her, and everything from her essays (even the ones about having small breasts--not, I admit, my problem) to her seminal novel, Heartburn, did nothing to change that. I didn’t meet Nora until about 2006, when, at an event for her then-current book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, she threw her arms around me--me! Her eternal fan, whom I thought she had no reason to know--and said "You’re such a star. I'm so proud of you."

I had written to Nora Ephron, asking her to blurb my book, So Many Books, So Little Time. I had gotten her address from her longtime friend Joni Evans, who said, "What the hell? Let’s give it a try!" Ephron refused to blurb the book, but she did it in the nicest, most hilarious way. The letter she sent me--hand-written, to my home address, how she got that I don't know--was delightful, all about how she'd given up blurbing when her veterinarian threatened to kill her cat if she didn't blurb his book. (I assumed then, and now, that she--or he--was kidding.) I was ambitious enough to ask if I could use her funny letter as a quote. She said no.

More recently, I got to know Nora a very little bit through her sister Delia, whom I met at a book party under circumstances so weird I will save them for another time. Delia and Nora were close--they wrote You’ve Got Mail together, among other things, including the delightful, Love, Loss, and What I Wore--but Delia never traded on her relationships. But when Delia's book was published, it was Nora's house to which I went as a dinner companion and celebrant: say what you will about Nora's ambition, that night was all about her wonderful younger sister.

Over the last few years, I've been sent a number of writers from Nora. When Nora sent you somebody she thought was great, you listened. As I said to one of these women, who had been counseled by Nora to write the story of her unusual childhood: "I’ve learned a few things... One is that when Nora or Delia tells you to do something, you should do it." 

I always wanted to write a book like Heartburn. (Nora said to me, when I told her I wanted to write a book about MY divorce, but I didn’t think I had the distance to be mean enough, "It doesn’t have to be that mean, Sara. It just has to be funny!") Hell, I would have been happy writing one essay that had the verve and humor and style and honesty of anything in Scribble, Scribble or Crazy Salad.

Dear Nora. I hardly knew you. But you were everything to me, and to so many of us who dared to think that being a funny, observant woman could make us writers.

--Sara Nelson