For a few of us, autumn and Halloween create the happiest, most delightfully spooky season imaginable. Not only is the weather wonderful (crunchy leaves, hot drinks, warm sweaters, and those brilliant reds and oranges!), but the books I want to curl up with at this time are among my favourites. Here are a few to make fellow October souls happy:
Honestly, this is among my favourite picture books ever written. Julia moves into a huge house, which she thinks a grand idea until she actually spends a bit of time in it…and realizes it’s really quite lonely! She puts up a sign that invites all lost creatures to come and take up residence in her house, the result of which is… Well, you’re just going to have to read it. I really can’t say enough about how absolutely wonderful this story is, though. So, do read it.
My opinion on this book may be a little unconventional, but I honestly think this is the best illustrated Cinderella adaptation. Cinderella is a skeleton, her prince is one too, and it’s not just her shoe she loses when she runs down the stairs. The illustrations are beautiful, and the story strikes just the right balance of playful macabre and sweet story.
This one is just plain funny. Meet Crankenstein (chances are you know him). He’s having a day that leaves him feeling nothing but cranky. But when one Crankenstein meets another? Let’s just say this is one book with which we can all identify.
Okay, so taking your leg off while dancing may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but for Zombelina, it’s just one of her many creative dance moves. With her kooky family encouraging her, Zombelina explores the world of dance on her own terms, but when her first ballet recital gives her stage fright, she has to trust in herself enough to finish the performance.
If you haven’t yet experienced the world of Adam Rex, you’re in for a treat, and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich is an excellent entry point. Full of funny stories surrounding Frankenstein’s attempts to live a normal life, this picture book will leave you in stitches. Wait. Not literal stitches. Stitches from laughing. Anyway, moving on…
Opposites attract in this ghoulishly good story of Bella and Boris, two contrary people who just can’t stand each other…and come to love each other. Humour meets the saccharine, and with Gris Grimly illustrating, every reader is sure to be pleased.
BB: Let’s start with some background, I know that you and I share a Nancy Drew heritage, and I personally think it’s a crying shame that your Nancy Drew satire, Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, isn’t in active print any longer.
How does the early influence of things like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Scooby Doo, et al influence your thriller writing today?
CC: I love the idea of a “Nancy Drew heritage,” like it some sort of recessive gene. I definitely have the Nancy Drew mutation on my eleventh chromosome. It was mysteries or nothing for me.
I really had zero interest in the books my friends were reading about girls who rode horses or girls who lived on prairies or girls who had to make friends at new schools (unless one of those friends was murdered and the girl had to investigate). I have branched out a little since then. I have even read whole books in which not a single character is menaced by a psychopath. But I don’t like writing them. High stakes drama is exciting, it reveals character, and when it’s done well it’s utterly absorbing. Everything else falls away. It’s a form of meditation, only with more cardiac activity. Also, notice that I have never written a standalone thriller. Honestly, I don’t really like to read standalone thrillers. Ideally, I like there to be at least three books in a series before I even pick it up. With a standalone anything can happen. But if there are sequels, you can enjoy the thrills with the pleasant comfort of knowing the main character probably won’t bleed out in the last chapter.
“I have even read whole books in which not a single character is menaced by a psychopath. ”
BB: One other question about influence: Your writing group has given rise to several well-know authors who aren’t exactly known for pulling any punches when it comes to their readers’ delicate sensibilities, our good friend Chuck being the most controversial. How has this camaraderie helped craft your present style?
CC: I have learned most of what I know about writing from the people around that table. They are my first audience and my dear friends. They are also all deeply disturbed, perverted, twisted individuals. There is no shocking them. You would not believe what we read out loud to one another on a weeknight. No shame whatsoever. It’s no wonder I have no censor function. But they are unerring in their feedback. Not individually – individually they have all given me terrible advice – but when they see something as a group I know I’m in trouble, and I listen. Correction, first I cry. Then I listen.
“They are also all deeply disturbed, perverted, twisted individuals.”
BB: So, enough about famous friends and titian-haired teenagers, let’s talk about One Kick.
I loved it! It’s edgy and dark while being incredibly fast paced. It’s rare for me to be able to become so invested in a character when I devour a novel in less than a day, but I am incredibly invested in Kick. What’s the compromise you make between pacing and character development? Is it even a conscious decision?
CC: I try not to segment it like that. Ideally the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Character can be revealed in all kinds of ways. A seat-of-your-pants fist fight can (and should) show you a lot about a character. So I guess the answer is that I don’t compromise. It’s not like I’m thinking ACTION, ACTION, ACTION, BUBBLEBATH.
“It’s not like I’m thinking ACTION, ACTION, ACTION, BUBBLEBATH. ”
Every scene has to carry its weight, and every scene has to serve the story. But it’s all just an excuse to explore character. It’s like solving a riddle. All the little details accrue. Patterns emerge. New information changes perspective on past events. (Can you tell I’ve been in therapy?) This book is third person, but it’s entirely in Kick’s POV, which is a departure from my other series. Writing a thriller in the head of a single character is hard. There’s no cutting away. We never know what other characters are thinking. We only see the world through Kick’s lens. Because we don’t have any other perspective to weigh in we have to know Kick well enough to know when she’s wrong. There’s no room for error. So I had to make every scene count. I wish I could say that it was all intuitive. But I have to work at character development. It takes layering. I don’t get it right the first time. Pacing is just maintaining tension. Once you crack which narrative tools to use, you can make just about any scene a page turner. Eating cereal can be terrifying. Character is so much trickier because it’s as much about what’s withheld as what’s shared.
“Eating cereal can be terrifying.”
BB:I really cannot praise the delicate balance between Kick’s fragility and toughness enough. This is a stunning portrait of a survivor. What research did you do to sculpt her character? Did you read the Elizabeth Smart book which gets name dropped in the novel? Was there any particular real-life victim you were modelling her after?
CC: Thank you! It was important to me that Kick be strong, but also vulnerable enough that we would root for her. She owes a lot to the stories of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard. I followed every detail of both of those cases. Who doesn’t love a resurrection narrative? Those girls were presumed dead until the minute they were rescued. Elizabeth Smart grew up to be a wholesome, smartly-coiffed young woman. But wouldn’t it have been awesome if she’d learned how to shoot and throw knives and pick locks and she’d started responding to Amber Alerts?
BB: The network of pedophiles at the center of this thriller is chilling. How did you even go about looking into that world without locking your own children up safely inside 24/7? Does the fact that you’re a mother color this tale at all?
CC: Well I tried to avoid Googling “child pornography” for obvious reasons. This is harder than you might think if you’re trying to research child pornography cases. There was this article I had read in the NY Times that I was trying to find and I kept trying to use these euphemisms to find it, and was having no luck at all. Finally I Googled “New York Times Child Pornography” and it came right up. But it’s not like I was poking around in the dark corners of the Internet. The scary stuff is all from People Magazine and USA Today. It’s from the metro section of your local newspaper. These stories, when they do happen, blow up and I think they create a sense that the world is more dangerous than it is. Most kids who are abducted are not taken by strangers, and most kids who are sexually exploited know their abuser. I’m not worried about my kid being snatched by a guy in a van; I’m worried she’ll get skin cancer because I don’t put enough sunscreen on her. Statistically the latter is a lot more probable. For me the idea of a network of pedophiles, while scary, is also wishful thinking. A network is interconnected – that’s its vulnerability. Once you find a way in, you can bring down the whole evil enterprise. You just need an entry point. And a quick-witted avenging angel who can get past any lock.
“I’m not worried about my kid being snatched by a guy in a van; I’m worried she’ll get skin cancer because I don’t put enough sunscreen on her.”
BB: It seems like you might intend to bring us some more Kick (Two Kick?) in the future. Might this be true? Are we seeing a series being born?
I adore this book, so much so that I read it in a single sitting.
Hanging around the dead is not as interesting as it sounds, and as far as Leigh is concerned, having the bereaved as your clients leaves a lot to be desired. She’s stuck selling graves at her family’s cemetery and hasn’t been able to negotiate her way free of it. For the past few years she’s been one of her family’s sole supports, and as long as she works at the graveyard, her younger sister Kia can keep her normal life. Leigh’s decision, however, is not as simple as it seems on the surface. Not only did her dad uproot the family after he bought the cemetery without telling anyone, Leigh’s best friend died unexpectedly over the summer, and Dario, the new worker (and Leigh’s crush), is employed illegally. This book is a coming-of-age story that deals with greater issues of loss, opportunity, immigration, and what it means to find yourself buried beneath trauma.
Why You Should Read It: Shannon Hale, author of wonderful books including Princess Academy and Goose Girl, brings us a book unlike anything she’s previously released. Maisie Danger Brown has always dreamed of being an astronaut, so when she wins a trip to a NASA-like space camp, she’s beyond thrilled. The camp is everything she had hoped it would be…until an alien artifact buries its way into her body. You’re absolutely going to want to read Dangerous.
What to Read in the Meantime: I’m going to direct you to a Bradbury classic to get your thinker brains going; pick up a copy of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and delve into a delectable science fiction world.
You can grab your own copy of Dangerous off our shelves 2014 March 04.
Why You Should Read It: I feel like this is, in many ways, the story I wanted Disney’s Brave to be (but–bookseller woe–movies don’t quite satisfy me in the way a book does). Maeve is the youngest of five princesses. After her father becomes High King, his court is transformed into a place of dangerous intrigue, where she is only viewed as a prize to be won! Never in her life has Maeve considered herself an object to be owned, and she’s more determined than ever take control of her life and her own fate. Mature, thoughtful, and engaging, this is one story you won’t want to miss!
What to Read in the Meantime: I’d pick up Robin Lafever’s Grave Mercy for a taste of medieval elegance, intrigue, and scandal!
Why You Should Read It: Third in the Zita series, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is even better than it predecessors. Being held as a criminal on a penitentiary planet isn’t what Zita had in mind, so she begins to plot her escape…but when she realizes a few of her past decisions have had horrible consequences, her whole intergalactic journey is thrown into question.
What to Read in the Meantime: If you haven’t done so already, picking up the firsttwo Zita books is a really good idea.
Remember that book compiled by Frank Warren, Postsecret, in which ordinary people confessed the extraordinary? My confession? I re-read. My dirty little bookseller secret. And like all the kids who have re-read Harry Potter nineteen-thousand times, my re-reading actually started when I was in the fourth grade.
We read Pippi Longstocking that winter just before holiday break. I loved the tale of the stiff-braided wondergirl with her long name and daring sensibilities. Once we had finished reading it as a class, I promptly re-read it myself over school break. I remember reading it by the light of my cheesy string of Christmas lights.
I made it a tradition and re-read all of Pippi every year through junior high. I suppose that also explains why I think of Pippi as a Christmas title.
Re-reading is like craving comfort food. When life takes an unexpected turn there is great solace to be found in mac and cheese or re-entering a beloved land.
As an adult I am completely unashamed to admit that Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series is one I have re-read several times. Whenever my reality gets too much — more bills than cash, cat vomit, online book retailers — this series which stars the intrepid literary detective Thursday Next is truly a balm for my soul.
In Fforde’s alternate universe, literary questions spark all manner of crimes that are dealt with by the likes of Thursday and her peers, LiteraTecs in Spec Ops 27. Even after several re-reads, I am still dazzled by Fforde’s astonishing wit, which is aimed straight at the heart of a booklover.
When I really need escape, when my very world is threatened by global warming, poverty, and war, I do in fact seek for me the ultimate in comfort in Ray Bradbury’s classic Dandelion Wine. For me when I need to wrap myself in an unconditional cloak of innocence I will re-read the chapter on new tennis shoes. Bradbury’s lyric stream-of-consciousness writing depicts faultlessly the purity of childhood as our hero Douglas Spaulding yearns for new tennis shoes.
I’ll keep reaching for an occasional serving of meatloaf and certain books to help me through rough patches, but neither will be the sole source to feed me.
In addition to the thousands titles published by the larger publishing houses, we here at Elliott Bay are also proud to support several small publishers and self published authors from all over the world. Here are just a few of the titles that we’ve received within the last month or so.
Cloran is an old seafarer who is set to retire and finally settle down with his fiancee Adaire when his king sends him on one last mission to the far off island of Miotes. Telling himself that it’s only one last journey, Cloran gathers his shipmates and heads out on his ship Wavegazer. Unfortunately, the sea itself seems to have other plans for this captain and his crew.
This wonderfully illustrated collection of poems that poke fun at a wide range of subjects, Madan’s book is reminiscent of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. Almost every style of poem is represented here, from hilarious haiku to parodies of popular poems, The Bubble Collector is a great book to introduce children to the joys of poetry.
We are proud to present the complete catalog of titles published by The Chicago Center for Literature & Photography. Each small, hand-bound book is an original work and would make a welcome addition to any library. Topics range from travel memoir to post-apocalyptic science fiction and feature authors that I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about in the near future.