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YA Wednesday: Rainbow Rowell on "Landline," the 90s, and Disney theme parks

LandlineIt's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Rainbow Rowell and when I met her in person a month ago, it only confirmed my suspicion that she's as fabulous in person as the books she writes. 

Her latest, Landline, is classified as an adult book, but like her YA titles, there is no set age required for entry.   Landline tells the story of a marriage floundering in the wake of career, kids, and the daily grind.  Rowell uses a trick of time to allow her main character, Georgie, to revisit how she and husband Neal found each other and the final hurdle that resulted in a proposal.  Simultaneously, Georgie experiences present day self-doubt, questioning if they should have ended up together in the first place but seeing all the things she loves about Neal in new light. 

Whether you can relate to the marriage or not, at the end of the day it's a story about how two quirky, flawed people can fall in love and take that leap of faith more than once in the same relationship.

I sent Rowell some questions about the book and other things I wanted to know via email:

Seira Wilson: Have you been thinking about/working on this book for a while?  Was Landline always the title?

Rainbow Rowell: I have, yeah. I started plotting it at the same time as Fangirl. I'm not sure why I wrote Fangirl first — maybe because it felt lighter. Maybe because I thought someone else was bound to write a great novel about a fanfiction writer.

I always knew this book would be called Landline. I thought that was such a great title for a novel — I couldn't believe it was up for grabs.

SW: There's a pivotal point in Neal and Georgie’s relationship that Georgie revisits—what moment does that remind you of in your own life (in a relationship or otherwise)?

RR:  Hmmm ... My husband and I never had a breakup the way Georgie and Neal do. But there was a time when we had to decide what to do if we got jobs in different places — and we decided to move together.

SW: Do you have an old-school phone like the yellow one in Landline?  A Metallica t-shirt?  What meaningful object do you have, or wish you had, from the late 90s?

RR:  I have an old red rotary phone.   [um, soo jealous of this!  SW]

I don't have a Metallica T-shirt, but that was a nod to my husband who loves Metallica.

I actually have tons of stuff from the '90s. I still have my favorite shirt, and my favorite vintage sports jacket. I have watches. Stationery. A pair of purple-with-red-ladybugs Doc Martens mary janes. 

I have a hard time letting go of things.

SW: What aspect of your characters—Eleanor, Cath, Beth, Georgie—are most like you?

RR:  Oh, good question!

Eleanor has my stubbornness. The way she does things that she knows will make her stand out — even though she doesn't really want to stand out.

Cath has my anxiety. And my tendency to lose myself in fiction. Also my taste in emergency dance music.

Beth has my sense of humor. When I was writing Attachments, I gave her every joke I'd make myself. (She also has my arms.)

Georgie is good in a room. I'm also good in a room -- even if I'm more terrified than Georgie ever is. And she has my work/family tension. I've never been in her situation, but I know what it's like to feel like there isn't enough of me to go around. 

SW: You’ve written two adult books and two YA books that adults also love—do you approach the writing differently?

RR: No, I don't. I just try to get inside the characters' heads and see the world the way they would see it.

SW: I’m going to Disney World this fall with my 7-year-old and I see from your bio that you like to plan trips there—what three things should be on our “must-do” list?  Are you a roller coaster person, and if so, loops or no loops? What about Disney World do you most enjoy?

RR:  Ha! I love Disney theme parks. I love the theming, the attention to detail, the way every design element — and every sound and every smell — help tell the story.

I'm not much of a roller coaster person, but Disney isn't about thrill rides anyway. 

I have a 7-year-old, too, and a few of our musts are: It's a Small World (because it's gorgeous); the night-time castle show (magical!); and the Norwegian bakery in EPCOT (try the school bread).

SW: What are you working on now/next?

RR: I just finished the first draft of a YA fantasy, so I need to revise that. I think it will be out next fall (unless my editor hates it). And I'm working on the screenplay for Eleanor & Park.

Peter Sis Shares Early Sketches and Talks About "The Pilot and the Little Prince"

PilotLittlePrinceAn acclaimed children's book author and illustrator, Peter Sis' book The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtainabout his childhood in Cold War-era Prague, won a Caldecott Honor in 2008.  Most recently Sis turned his attention to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery in The Pilot and the Little Prince.  This picture book for older children (ages 6-up) tells the remarkable story of the author of the children's classic, The Little Prince, and Sis' passion for his subject leaps off the page. This is one of our favorite books for this age--actually, it's a fascinating read for anyone who's read The Little Prince--and we made it one of our Best Books of 2014 So Far.

During Book Expo America in New York last month, Sis was kind enough to do a video interview and share some of his early sketches from his studio in Manhattan.  He's a fascinating storyteller, and watching him quickly flipping through the sketches while speaking so candidly about them is something I found immensely enjoyable. 

 

 

YA Wednesday: July Favorites

It's the middle of summer and Seattle is scorching hot these days.  The best I can do under the circumstances has been to hide out with a fan and distract myself with books.

For the Best YA Books of July list, you'll see something a little bit different--a nonfiction YA title.  Now, this is not to imply that there hasn't been great nonfiction YA titles in months past, but this one, The Family Romanov, was so good it took the spotlight.   I hope you find a book on this month's list to help you beat the heat...

 

FamilyRomanov300The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
There have been no shortage of books written about the Romanovs, particularly the mystery surrounding Anastasia.  The Family Romanov covers some familiar ground but Fleming maintains the perfect balance of detail without overkill, and achieves that "you-are-there" feeling.  Alternating narratives tell the story of the last Tsar's family in the context of the time, not only what was happening in their lives individually and collectively, but also the lives of average Russians. This is some of the most engaging nonfiction I've read in a while and for anyone with an interest in this period of history, The Family Romanov will not disappoint.

 

QueenTearling300The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
This novel is not listed as young adult, but it speaks so well to that reader that we didn't see an age designation as a reason to keep it off the YA list for July.  In book one of a promising new fantasy series, a young woman born to be queen and raised in exile embarks on a quest to save her kingdom from an evil sorceress called the Red Queen.  I really loved some of the fairy tale elements--magical jewels and  loyal knights, a dark queen vs. a simple girl with hidden strengths and royal blood--along with the Game of Thrones style political intrigue.  Definitely a story to immerse yourself in this summer.

 

 

 

ShadowHero300

 

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Sonny Liew
I'm not a huge graphic novel reader but this one by the author of the Michael L. Printz award winner, American Born Chinese, and last year's National Book Award finalist, Boxers & Saints, totally grabbed my attention.  In The Shadow Hero, Yang resurrects a Chinese comic superhero from the 1940s, the Green Turtle, and creates his own origin story for the masked crusader.  In Yang's vision, it is a mother's will that pushes young Hank to accept his destiny and become the Green Turtle, in order to fight the crime plaguing the people of Chinatown. This graphic novel has a great classic comic book feel to it while at the same time playing on more sophisticated cultural references and shifts.  If you only read one graphic novel this summer, make it this one.

Sinner300 

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie, oh, Maggie. How thrilled I was to see a companion novel to the Shiver trilogy coming out this month!  Thrilled but then a little nervous too...what if I didn't like it as much?  Senseless, I know, but many years in this business has left me cautious at times.  Plus, it's always nice to be pleasantly surprised (of course it's fabulous!), right?  In Sinner, Cole St. Clair is back in Los Angeles with a spot on a dodgy internet reality show and determined to rekindle his passionate but toxic love affair with Isabel Culpepper.  Their story makes for compulsive reading and fans of the trilogy will love the return of some Wolves of Mercy Falls characters, but this one can also be read as a standalone.

The Wildest Books in America

Untamed Will Harlan’s new biography, Untamed, explores the remarkable and controversial life of Carol Ruckdeschel, a woman who eats road kill, stalks alligators, and lives in a ramshackle cabin on the wild Cumberland Island--the country's largest and most biologically diverse barrier island, off the Georgia coast--all in defense of sea turtles and the future of the park.

We asked Will for his perspective on environmental writing, as well as the books that inspired him to track down the story of the "wildest woman in America."

Untamed is an Amazon selection for 2014's Best Books of the Year So Far.


BEST VOICES OF ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING by Will Harlan

Nature writing can be pretty, and environmental books can be convincing, but I ultimately crave the raw emotion of fellow human beings struggling to find and protect their place in the world. The best environmental writing, I believe, is about people.

People are the problem and the solution. Good environmental writing reconnects people to nature—not through lectures, but through living, flesh-and-blood examples of courage and commitment. We feel the landscape through them.   

For years, I’ve tried to write about the tangled environmental politics of Cumberland Island. Finally, I realized that the best way to tell the island’s story was through the heartbreaking adventures of its most powerful personality. Carol’s experiences are more persuasive than any political argument.

Here are a few of my favorite environmental voices and books. Instead of preachy diatribes or flowery descriptions, they inspire me with gritty, gutsy characters—some legendary, some overlooked—who stand their ground and speak for the wild.

 

The Last American ManThe Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert


A modern-day pioneer living nearly self-sufficiently on a wild reserve in Appalachia, Eustace Conway embodies the ideals of American masculinity—ruggedness, courage, and independence. However, those hard-fought ideals have a price. Liz Gilbert shows us the tired, lonely man behind the bravado. A tough, buckskin-clad maverick hunts for the one thing missing from his mountain refuge: love.

 

 



Into the Wild Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer


Chris McCandless is either a stupid kid or self-reliant hero. As soon as he graduates college, he gives away all of his savings and wanders the wild, seeking adventure and an authentic relationship with the land—until he finds himself starving to death alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Barely able to lift a pen, he scribbles this final message, which continues to haunt and shape my own life: “Happiness only real when shared.”

 

 



Encounters with the Archdruid Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee


McPhee masterfully captures the nuances and complexities of the most influential modern environmentalist, David Brower, by shadowing him on close-combat crusades to protect America’s last wild places. But don’t expect classic confrontations with battle lines clearly drawn; Brower is far more kaleidoscopic. Like Brower himself, the book’s strength is in its subtlety, with finely drawn characters exquisitely presented in shades of gray.

 

 



Refuge Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams


Williams’ mother is dying from exposure to nearby nuclear testing, and wildlife is being wiped out by dams and development. In her unflinching memoir, Williams wrestles with life and death out in the wide-open Utah desert and seeks shelter where there is none.

 

 

 

 

Ecology of a Cracker ChildhoodEcology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray


Ray’s hardscrabble upbringing in a south Georgia junkyard is an unlikely start for an environmental luminary, but the rusted scrap heaps of her childhood are chock full of raw, resourceful characters—including an authoritarian father who locks his family in a closet and a snuff-dipping coon hunter who introduces her to the wild woods. Ray weaves her own story into the razed red-clay landscape and leads a rebellion to save the South’s last longleaf pine forests.

 

 



Desert Solitaire Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey


It’s definitely the most sermonizing selection of the bunch, but Abbey’s coarse, thunderous voice crying out for the wilderness still echoes across the desert he called home. Amid his nerve-tingling adventures as a park ranger, the monkey-wrenching anarchist unleashes forceful, full-blooded pleas for the last scraps of wildlands.

 

 

 



The Lost Grizzlies The Lost Grizzlies by Rick Bass


Grizzly bears had not been seen for 15 years in southern Colorado until a small group sets out to find them. Bass seeks more than bears, though; he is tracking his own wildness and the longings of the human heart, which only are revealed in the presence of something larger.


Sara’s Sleeper: "We Are Called to Rise" by Laura McBride

SaranelsonWe Are Called to RiseSometimes I crave a simple, straightforward novel--not necessarily light, but straightforward;  one that makes a point about our world-views, our morality, the way we live now. 

We Are Called to Rise, by Laura McBride, is that kind of book. It’s a  series of interlocking vignettes of four characters:  two middle aged women with in-flux family lives, a little Albanian-immigrant boy and a wounded soldier too scared and angry to remember his patriotic platitudes. It’s set in Las Vegas, but if you’re thinking glamorous, you’ll be surprised.  And while there are moments you can’t help but see that this debut author is more fascinated by her ideas than the characters she gives them to, I dare you to come away from this arresting novel unmoved. 

Plus:  how can you resist a book that is both readable in one sitting AND takes its title from a poem by Emily Dickinson? 

How I Wrote It: Alan Furst, on the "special vitamins" of wartime Europe

FurstAlan Furst's thrilling and endearing new historical spy novel is once again set in Europe as the shadows of war darken the continent and its people. As with his previous novels, Midnight in Europe portrays the tense unease of a region--in this case France and, in particular, Spain--on the verge of fracture, with allegiances and loyalties in constant and dangerous flux. Heroes and villains are sometimes indistinguishable, mainly, says Furst, because most of Europe was "scared to death."

"I don't quite understand why, but that era had special vitamins. It just did," he told me. "What was it about ther '30s? I don't know, but there was this bursting of creativity that came along."

Speaking at the annual Book Expo America conference in New York, we also discussed the 1984 trip he took through Europe, on assignment for Esquire. "I came back a changed person," he told me. Interestingly, he rarely visits Europe these days, which is far different from the version of Europe he writes about. "I'm used to another Paris," he said.

Proudly "blue collar" in his approach to writing, Furst is already pounding out the next novel, two pages per day, every day. "I can't fool around and wait for inspiration," he said. Like one of his own characters, he still writes on a typewriter, a Lexmark. "Descendant of the mighty IBM selectric," he gushed proudly. "I think I write better on a typewriter." 

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" »

What to Read in Litchfield Prison: Dana Reinhardt on "We Are the Goldens"

WeAreTheGoldensI'm a big fan of the show Orange is the New Black, and it's been interesting to see the commentary on binge-watching since the long-awaited second season released.  Many readers can relate to this experience, it's basically the same thing as when you "just-one-more-chapter" yourself into finishing a book that's sucked you in, even if it's 4 a.m. and you have to work the next day. 

I recently had the unique experience of binge-reading Dana Reinhardt's book, We Are the Goldens (one of our Best Young Adult Books of June), and also binge-watching Season 2 of Orange is the New Black, where I was very pleasantly surprised to see the same book I'd just burned through, being read on the show by no less than the maven of Litchfield prison herself (that would be Red). 

I wanted to find out if Reinhardt was already a fan of Orange is the New Black, and what it was like to see her book on the T.V. show everyone's talking about.  Here's what I found out about these questions and more:

Q: For a reader just learning about your book, tell me about We Are the Goldens

Dana Reinhardt: We Are The Goldens is about two sisters, Nell and Layla, who are extraordinarily close, and it’s about what happens when that sort of closeness is threatened, as it inevitably will be, by individual choices. It’s written in the form of a confessional from Nell directly to Layla as she struggles with whether to keep her sister’s secrets. It’s about kids of privilege growing up with overly trusting and distracted parents. It’s about inchoate morality. It’s about the blurry lines between love and friendship. And it’s one big (slightly twisted) love letter to the city of San Francisco.

Q: The book is shown on the new season of Orange is the New Black – were you already a fan of the show?  What did that feel like, to see your new book in that context?

Dana Reinhardt: I’m a huge fan of the show. I think it’s some of the smartest writing on television. The characters are so complex and I love the way as a viewer you get to know them before you really know them, that is, before you know who they are outside of the microcosm of the prison system and what set of circumstances led them there. Seeing Red, the grand dame of Litchfield, reading my book was an absolute thrill, particularly as that moment arrived on our screens just as the debate blew up about whether adults should be embarrassed to read YA literature. Clearly Red is not embarrassed. Nor are the many other OITNB characters shown with YA novels in their hands.

Q: What do you think makes We Are the Goldens such a good crossover adult read?

Dana Reinhardt: I see most young adult fiction, especially realistic young adult fiction simply as coming of age literature, and who doesn’t love a good coming of age story? I know I do. But this book in particular works for the adult reader because it raises some questions about parents and teachers and the environments we trust our children to that maybe aren’t simple to answer. I didn’t want to write a black and white story, and though I know some young readers will see it that way, I don’t think adult readers will.

Q: You’ve said that To Kill a Mockingbird is your favorite book – were you a teenager when you read it, and was it assigned reading?

Dana Reinhardt: I don’t remember what grade I was in when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe 9th? I know I didn’t come to it on my own, because left to my own devices I’d have just re-read a Judy Blume book for the thousandth time. But whenever it was that I was assigned that book, my sense of the world forever shifted. It moved me on every level and I remember thinking: this is a perfect book. I go back to it every 10 years or so, often with a sense of trepidation. What if it isn’t as good as I remember? What if it isn’t perfect? It is. And it is.

Q: What are you reading now and how do you decide what to read next?

Dana Reinhardt: I often read several books at once. Usually I’m listening to something on audio while I take my daily walk in Golden Gate Park with the dog. Sometimes I choose silence, if I need to work out a plot point in whatever I’m currently writing, but most often I listen to YA. I find that most YA lends itself well to audio and it’s where I do the vast majority of my YA “reading”. Right now I’m listening to Siobhan Vivian’s The List, which is wonderfully complex. As far as books that I hold in my hands, I know I’m a little late to the party, but I just recently discovered Tana French. I’m not generally a reader of mysteries or detective novels so I resisted her for a long time, but finally enough people I know and trust pushed hard enough and all I can say is… Whoa. She is a gorgeous writer. I’m also currently re-reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, her companion books on grief and loss and aging. They are the sorts of books to which you will want to return as, inescapably, their themes will impact your life in some way. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

 

Brad Meltzer is Obsessed with "Ordinary People Changing the World"

RosaBrad Meltzer is a shape-shifter and, apparently, the guy doesn't sleep. Known mainly for the bestselling thrillers he's been writing since his twenties--starting with his 1997 debut, The Tenth Justice--he also writes comic books, screenplays, and hosts his own History Channel show, Brad Meltzer's Decoded.

More recently, he's shouldered the laudable task of inspiring kids--his, and ours. Meltzer's first such efforts--Heroes for my Daughter and Heroes for my Son--led to this year's Ordinary People Changing the World series, the latest of which is I Am Rosa Parks, on sale this week.

The "I Am..." books depict heroic Americans during their childhoods, as regular boys and girls. The first two, Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln, will be followed by Albert Einstein (September) and Jackie Robinson (January).

At BookExpo America in New York last month, we spoke with Meltzer about his own childhood heroes, his love of story, his paranoia, and his radical belief that "a reality TV show bimbo is not a hero." (And if you don't like my interview, check out one of the best book trailers I've seen, featuring Meltzer's family and friends trash-talking him.)

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