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Best of the Year

Books-to-Film: Jonathan Tropper's "This Is Where I Leave You" -- Watch the Movie Trailer

When Jonathan TropTropperper's novel This Is Where I Leave You was published in 2009--and soon after named one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year--our reviewer, Daphne Durham, described the book as "wickedly funny ... as much about a family's reckoning as it is about one man's attempt to get it together."

Tropper's protagonist is now being portrayed by Jason Bateman, in the film of the same name, which is releasing this weekend. It also stars Tina Fey and Jane Fonda.

Listen to Durham speak with Tropper in this audio podcast.

At the time, Tropper described his protagonist as a man "dealing with the complete unraveling of his life ... he just wonders how much further he has to sink before he starts climbing back up."

In her review, Durham called Tropper "a master of the cutting one-liner that makes you both cringe and crack up.

"But what elevates his novels and makes him a truly splendid writer is his ability to create fantastically flawed, real characters who stay with you long after the book is over."

New in Paperback: "Pilgrim's Wilderness" by Tom Kizzia

PilgrimsWildernessThough this article was originally published July 16, 2013, we're taking the paperback publication of Tom Kizzia's Pilgrim's Wilderness as an opportunity to revisit one of our favorite books of last year.

 

When the "Pilgrim" family rolled into the old mining outpost of McCarthy, Alaska, they were a sight to behold: Robert "Papa Pilgrim" Hale, his wife Country Rose, and their 15 children--an old-fashioned, piously Christian family from another time, packed into two ramshackle campers. Looking for the space and freedom to live out their lives as they pleased, they were welcomed as kindred souls by the ghost town's few residents. A tad eccentric, they quickly ingratiated themselves into the tiny frontier community through Papa's charisma, their apparent dedication to self-reliance, and occasional family performances of their unique blend of gospel and bluegrass, music that seemed to soar on the conviction of their beliefs. And when they purchased an old mining claim in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park with plans to permanently settle there (dubbing it “Hillbilly Heaven”), it seemed the Pilgrim family had come home to the last existing place in America that suited them.

But Hale chafed against the regulations that came with being a National Park inholder, and he quickly adopted an adversarial stance with the NPS, refusing to communicate with or even acknowledge its rangers. Everything went sideways when he bulldozed a road to town across national park lands, stopping just short of McCarthy in an attempt to avoid scrutiny. It didn't work. When the road was discovered by backpackers, NPS agents were fast on the scene and all over the Pilgrims' activities, and suddenly the humble hermit became a lightning rod for property-rights activists in McCarthy, Alaska, and far beyond.

That's where Tom Kizzia entered the story. As a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, he wrote a series of lengthy articles on the family's struggle with the federal government, and he soon discovered that Papa's past belied the tales he told about himself and his clan. This simple man of faith carried a long, strange, and troubled history: the violent death of his first wife, whom he married when she was 16, and who also happened to be the daughter of Texas governor John Connally; his hippie phase (when he went by the name "Sunstar"), filled with drug-fueled epiphanies and raging outbursts; a contentious relationship with his neighbors in the New Mexico wilderness, who accused Hale of casual disregard for laws that didn't suit his interests (especially the ones related to "Thou shalt not steal"); and worst of all, a dominion over his children that hinted at the most vile forms of abuse. As the situation with the NPS degraded and grew more tense, Hale's behavior became more erratic, driving himself and the entire town toward a denouement worthy of the creepiest Robert Mitchum movies.

With Pilgrim's Wilderness, Kizzia has expanded on his original reporting and written a spellbinding tale of narcissism and religious mania's concussive effects on Hale's family and adopted town, a book that's likely to end up on many year-end Best Of lists. Kizzia answered our questions about Hale, McCarthy, and the town's relationship with the National Park Service.

 

Hale-TwinsHow did you first come to the story of Robert Hale and his family?

This started with a renegade bulldozer in a national park. As a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, it seemed like a good news story. I’d heard from friends out in McCarthy that this guy, Papa Pilgrim, was stirring up the ghost town. I wanted to go out to his wilderness homestead to meet him and his family of 15 kids. When he heard I had a cabin nearby, he said yes, and suddenly I was tumbling down the rabbit hole.
 
“Papa Pilgrim” was a mess of contradictions: he idolized his FBI father and took advantage of benefits such as food stamps and Alaska Permanent Fund dividends, and yet he vigorously agitated and undermined the federal government, particularly the National Park Service. Were his anti-government convictions honest (if confused), or self-serving and opportunistic?

Mostly the latter. He needed enemies to hold his family together. But he was reflexively anti-establishment. Which makes the FBI dad a rich twist. As for being anti-government while accepting government handouts, Alaskans by and large don’t spend too much time worrying about that contradiction.

Continue reading "New in Paperback: "Pilgrim's Wilderness" by Tom Kizzia" »

YA Wednesday: Best YA Books of 2014 So Far

Scary, but true--2014 is basically half over. There are still a LOT of great books to look forward to this fall (Skink--No Surrender, BelzharThe Infinite Sea, etc.,) but this is the time of year when we look back at the ones we've loved over the first six months of the year and do the painful work of picking our 20 favorite YA novels.  The first five are below, and you've heard me rave about them all before so I will spare you another round.  Just know that all the books on the list are ones that I highly recommend--I'm hoping you see some of your own favorites and find a few new ones here, too.

                     Best Teen & Young Adult Books of 2014 So Far

 BOTYSF_YA_Collage

 Here's a taste - the first five:

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: Not kidding. love love love this book.

2. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor:  A perfect example of how fantastic YA literature can be, whether you are 16 or 46A must-read trilogy in my book.

3. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs:  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a tough act to follow but Hollow City is compulsive reading and well worth the time between books.  I hope Riggs hurries up on the next one, though...

4. The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkowski:  Star-crossed love and a new heroine to watch.  Throw in a richly imagined world of class warfare, politics, intrigue, and constant action and you've got the first book of an original new trilogy.

5. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: A powerful and ultimately hopeful contemporary novel about the effects of war on those left behind.  Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest.

See the whole list here

 

Amazon's Best Books of 2014 So Far

It's that time of year.

This morning, the Amazon Books Editors (that's us) are happy to announce our choices for the Best Books of the Year So Far. Not content to wait a full year between best of the year lists, we each take stock of all the books published from January through June, convening in windowless conference rooms to advocate (argue) and compromise (weep) over our personal favorites. At the end of the day, we pack up our hurt feelings, bruised egos, and quiet resentments and prepare to do it again the next day.

As usual, there was no shortage of great books to consider. Just our top 20 features a masterful biography of a literary giant, the triumphant swan song from a three-time National Book Award winner, and a true-life tale of billionaires, art, and cannibalism. In all, we chose our favorite books across 17 categories, including kids and teens. Browse our top 10 selections below, and see them all in our Best Books of the Year So Far store.

 

Updike

1. Updike by Adam Begley: This biography of the American master goes far beyond simple chronology of this complex (and often paradoxical) character, layering on the lit crit where his real life bled into his novels. Detailed and compulsively readable, Updike is essential for admirers, and illuminating for anyone with an interest in literature.

 

The Book of Unknown Americans


2. The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel by Cristina Henríquez: Henríquez’s powerful novel captures readers with the quiet beauty of her characters and their profoundly rendered experiences as immigrants in America. Following nine families who arrived in the States from South and Central America, Henriquez has crafted a novel that is inspiring, tragic, brave, and unforgettable.

 

Redeployment

3. Redeployment by Phil Klay: The strength of Klay’s stories, all about the Iraq War or its aftermath, lies in his unflinching, un-PC point of view, even for the soldiers he so clearly identifies with and admires. These stories are at least partly autobiographical, and yet, for all their verisimilitude, they’re also shaped by an undefinable thing called art.

 

Continue reading "Amazon's Best Books of 2014 So Far" »

YA Wednesday: "The Fault in Our Stars" Movie Exclusive

TFIOS_300 TFIOS_MTISo, last week was Book Expo America, the giant tradeshow in New York that consists of authors, books, and events that bring booksellers and authors together.  One of these events was a special screening of The Fault in Our Stars movie.

I'm a huge fan of this book so I had my concerns, but they were needless. The movie was fantastic, as was the soundtrack--something I hadn't even thought about (and could have gone horribly wrong...). Swedish hip hop? Um, yeah! 

Before the lights went down, author John Green told the audience how happy he is with the team at Fox 2000, the cast (seriously star-studded!), and the resulting film.  After the movie, a Q&A session moderated by Lev Grossman included one of the producers, the screenplay writers, the director, John Green, the president of Fox 2000, and Nat Wolff (who plays Isaac in the movie). As they answered questions and joked about how The Fault in Our Stars became a cinematic reality, it was obvious that there is a lot of affection amongst this group, for each other and the story they set out to tell. 

Exclusive photos of John Green on the set during filming:

Green on set
Green with Shailene Woodley
Green and Laura Dern
Green talking to Laura Dern

On the way into the theater, we were given popcorn, sodas, and a packet of tissues with The Fault In Our Stars covers (the original, and the one with movie art) printed on them.  If you haven't read this book yet (and I hope you will) please know that there is a lot of laughter mixed with the tears.  And for me the tears are good tears, born of the characters tugging my heart strings and how much Green's story makes me appreciate family, friendship, and that truly-madly-deeply feeling of falling in love. Yes, I'm a total sap, but I dare you not to be moved by this book.

Green on set
Before the movie
Green and Laura Dern
After the movie

 

What's next for John Green on the big screen? Paper Towns is set for release in 2015 with the same screenwriters and producers, starring Nat Wolff (Isaac in The Fault in Our Stars) as Quentin Jacobsen. Fingers crossed that it's as faithful an adaptation as this one.

 

Don't Look Down: Training for the New Alpinism

Training for the New Alpinism by Steve House and Scott Johnston

As a writer for a blog that is somewhat preoccupied with literary fiction and popular nonfiction, it's not often that I have the opportunity (or reason) to go off-topic and talk about a fitness book.

Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete, by Steve House and Scott Johnston, is no ordinary fitness book. House is a world-renowned climber and an advocate of the "alpine-style": A fast-and-light, carry-all-your-gear approach that eschews the siege-style encampments and support typical in commercial mountaineering, especially in places such as Mt. Everest. In order to do that ("that" meaning scaling vertical ice walls thousands of feet high with a 20-pound pack on your back), one must be extraordinarily fit. Along with his climbing partner, Vince Anderson, House won the 2005 Piolet d'Or for their ascent of the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat in the western Himalayas, and his previous book, Beyond the Mountain, won the 2009 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature. Johnston, also a climber, has skied at the international level and coaches several top cross-country skiers.

If you're serious, or semi-serious, about climbing, this is your book. House and Johnston have put together regimens of varying difficulties that are both comprehensive and intense, while also addressing nutrition, mental fitness, and goal-setting. Though the exercises are nominally climbing-specific, they're appropriate for anyone who spends time in the mountains, or anyone looking to shake up their routine.

But even if you don't know a Prusik from a piton, there's a lot here to love. The book contains dozens of full-color high-altitude climbing photographs, as well as 27 essays by accomplished climbers, including Ueli Steck, Mark Twight, and Peter Habeler. To illustrate the unique nature of this book, House and Johnston (along with Patagonia Books) have provided several images, along with two excerpts:

  • "The Alpinist as Athlete": A summary of House and Johnson's philosophy of training's central role in the success of any climber
  • "The North Face of the North Twin": A short essay by House about a time something went sideways at altitude (the full story is included in Beyond the Mountain)

 Training for the New Alpinism is a book Fred Beckey would love.

 Images from the book (click for larger photographs):

Marko Prezelj climbing the short traversing pitch to the ice in the exit cracks of the headwall. North face of the North Twin, Alberta

Justin Merle chucks a lap near Ouray, Colorado

Continue reading "Don't Look Down: Training for the New Alpinism" »

2014 Newbery Honor Winner: Kevin Henkes on "The Year of Billy Miller"

YrBillyMiller300I'm fascinated by watching illustrators draw, and award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes graciously agreed to have a chat about The Year of Billy Miller (one of our Best Children's Books of 2013) AND draw one his most beloved characters, Lilly (Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, among others) on camera when we met up at Book Expo America.  

When I say that Henkes is an award-winning author, I don't mean it lightly--he's won the Caldecott Medal for Kitten's First Full Moon, a Caldecott Honor for Owen, a Newbery Honor for his middle grade novel, Olive's Ocean, and this year he took home two awards: a Newbery Honor for his latest book, The Year of Billy Miller and a Geisel Honor for Penny and Her Marble, the third book in his new beginning reader series.  Henkes is truly a jewel of the children's book world, and a delightful, down-to-earth guy who was really fun to meet and talk to.  We chatted about how he decides which format to write next, where the story for Billy Miller came from in his own life, and about the fact that he's never had a main character that was a dog.  You can watch him draw in the first video below, and the second is our conversation before and after.

 

 

 

What Makes a Woman Dangerous?

Dangerous Women We asked a few of the authors who contributed to the wonderful, genre-jumping short story collection Dangerous Women -- one of our Science Fiction & Fantasy Best of the Year picks -- what they think makes a woman dangerous. Here's what they had to say...


Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson
"Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell"

What makes a woman dangerous? Well, what makes a person dangerous?

To me, the best kind of danger--which is, in a way, also the worst kind--is unexpected. It's that twisted kind of dangerous that takes something familiar and safe and reveals it as something deadly. Wolves are frightening. A loyal pet going mad and killing a child is ten times more terrifying to me.

For the anthology, I wanted to find a way to express this unexpected sort of dangerous. I didn't want a lean, professional assassin or a warrior in her prime, dangerous though those may be. I wanted something closer to home, a blend of the expected and unexpected. That is where I found Silence Montane.

The first name is one I ran across while reading puritan names. It was the second piece of the puzzle, as it raised questions. Who names their daughter Silence, and what does it imply? What is it like to grow up with this name? The answers built into the concept of a stout pioneer woman who ran an inn on the frontier, drawing the seediest criminals the land had to offer. She'd then track them after they left her inn, and murder them for their bounties.

Familiar, yet unexpected. Kindly, yet deadly. The story turned out better than I could have hoped, and I'm thrilled to have had the chance--and the prompting--to write it.

 

Kress

Nancy Kress
"Second Arabesque, Very Slowly"

What makes a woman dangerous? The same thing that makes a man dangerous: wanting something too much. "Wanting something" is, of course, what drives characters in fiction, as well as in real life. Wanting to win a football game, an argument, the presidency, a certain mate. Wanting to gain money, power, glory, a buff body, a hole-in-one, the most ambitious Christmas lights in town. This is all normal (well, maybe not the Christmas lights). It becomes dangerous when people will do anything at all to obtain what they want. Then you get bloody coups, bank robbery, dangerous steroid use, assassination, and the 1919 World Series. 

It's a balancing act, satisfying the sometimes competing requirements of desire, morality, and other people's outrage. The temptations are many, the rewards great, and the strictures of varying intensity. How badly do I want this? What am I willing to do to get it? At what price? All the characters in Dangerous Women want something, or they would not be dangerous. Usually they want it pretty badly. These are stories about how they go about getting it.

 

Spector

Caroline Spector
"Lies My Mother Told Me

There are so many ways a woman can be dangerous it's difficult to narrow the field. But these four characters in the following films are dangerous because they are all ruthless in getting what they desire. They're beautiful, dangerous monsters.

 

  • Ingrid Magnussen: White Oleander
  • Cora Smith: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
  • Phyllis Dietrichson: Double Indemnity
  • Matty Walker: Body Heat

 

Lindholm

Megan Lindholm
"Neighbors"

Malala Yousafzai threatens the Taliban in a way that no amount of military might could achieve. While still a teenager, she is one dangerous woman, in the best sense of that phrase!

The Top Five Humans of New York

HONY-OMNIBrandon Stanton's thousands of not-quite-candid street portraits of New Yorkers (and accompanying captions, usually from the subjects themselves) have made his Humans of New York blog both poignant and extremely popular--as well as garnering him recognition as one of Time magazine's 30 People Under 30 Changing the World. His book of the same title collects 400 of his best portraits, telling small stories that are outsized in their humor, candor, and humanity. It was also our number one pick for the best books of the year in Photography.

Here are Stanton's own top five favorite images, accompanied by his own words. Click on the images to see larger versions, and learn more about Humans of New York. It also makes a wonderful gift for any of the humans in your life.

 

 

 


1) Ironically, some of the best quotes come from the people who have the least amount of time to talk to me.  She told me: "I can't talk, because these shadows are changing every second."  Normally I'm a bit downtrodden if I'm unable to interview a subject, but I thought her 'brush-off' was the perfect complement to the photo.  Centralpark-4847

 


2) I always cite this photo as representing the most emotional interaction that I've ever had on the street.  I came across this 100 year old woman just south of Central Park.  She was walking in a rainstorm with a very bright umbrella.  After I took her photo, I got under the umbrella with her, and asked her for one piece of advice.  She said: "I'll tell you what my husband told me when he was dying.  I asked him: 'Mo, how am I supposed to live without you?'  And he told me: 'Take the love you have for me and spread it around.'"

Midtown-3881 


3) I was walking through Chelsea one morning when I noticed someone rolling around in the middle of the street.  Of course I started running toward the scene, and when I arrived, I found this drag queen.  Apparently she had been performing a song at a nearby bar, and at the climax of her performance, ran into the street and threw her tips into the air.  I joke that this photo captures more elements of New York than any other I've taken.Edit-8986 

 


4) I love this photo because of the variety of expressions that I managed to capture.  I found these kids in the Lower East Side, making the most of a hot summer day.  Right before I took the photo, one of the kids leaned a little too far forwards and started spilling water from the pool.  This created a variety of different responses from his fellow swimmers.Les-4598 

 


5) The young boy seemed so unwilling to participate in the portrait, that at first it seemed like a photo would be impossible.  But his shyness ended up coming through beautifully, creating a portrait of the relationship between mother and son.IMG_1560

 

 Learn more about Humans of New York.

 

 

Best of the Year in Science Fiction & Fantasy ... plus Horror

It's been an amazing year for Science Fiction & Fantasy. We saw the conclusion of a truly epic epic fantasy series, father and son horror writers cleverly nodding to one another, a self-published ebook phenomenon turned hardcover release, and much, much more. What follows are three of my favorite genre reads of 2013.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It's the short story that refused to stay small. Neil Gaiman weaves a gorgeous coming of age tale, filled with all the wonder and magic we've come to expect from him. But it's the autobiographical elements, the moments that came from his memory rather than his pure imagination, that give this tale its true heart. Learn more
The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

There's something to be said for subtlety. Wecker's debut isn't what we typically think of when we think of the fantasy genre. It's more of alternate history that happens to revolve around two incredibly real-feeling and memorable fantasy beings. Months later, the story continues to move me. Learn More
N0S4A2

N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

Imaginative, original, creepy as hell, and referentially genius, N0S4A2 is a new horror gem. Hill delivers true suspense, keeping us locked within the confines of his characters -- showing the story, never telling it. And what characters they are! Vic, a young girl we grow with throughout. Manx, a man so twisted he cameos as an abstract threat in Stephen King's Doctor Sleep. Personalities and special powers are all precise and powerful, even for those we barely get to know. Hill nailed this! Learn More
See all 20 books on the Sciece Fiction & Fantasy Best of the Year list

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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