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.
While wistfully celebrating the beauty and fluid grace of the game, knowledgeable lifelong fan Almond compellingly details the crises facing football: that it destroys players, corrupts communities and educational institutions, and represents a morally dubious use of resources. The evidence is preponderant and growing. The book also asks us implicitly, as fans, to consider our addiction to the kind of spectacle that differs only by degree from that used to placate the Roman mob of two thousand years ago, and whether we frankly prefer to accept destruction and suffering for the sake of our own amusement. A book to be read NOW: fall 2014. –Jesse
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.
For those of you not yet familiar with the inestimable Tai Moses, you’re in for an absolute treat. For those of you who already know Tai Moses (TM), it’s time to celebrate because she’s going to be in our store on June 30th for a reading!!! And, while you’re waiting for that, our bookseller Brandi Bailey (BB) interviewed her for your reading pleasure:
BB: The first question I need to ask you is, as you seem even more empathetic to nature and suffering than I am, how you keep yourself from just curling up in a little ball and crying your heart out?
TM: There are certainly times when I am tempted to curl up in a ball and cry; for instance, when I think about the wretched lives that cows, pigs and chickens endure at factory farms. However, there is something that helps me from feeling overwhelmed—and that is to act, to do something, to fight back in some way.
In Zooburbia I explore the ways in which compassion can be the basis for our actions in the world. The word compassion has Latin roots that translate to action andpassion. Technically, compassion is much more than just feeling sad about some heartbreaking thing you’ve read or seen—it means feeling the passion to act, and actually doing something to make it better.
For example, if you know of a dog who’s chained up in a yard, don’t just feel sorry for the dog: go talk to the dog’s owner, try to intervene, find out if there are anti-chaining laws in your community, politely educate the owner. I’m a big believer in taking matters into our own hands. Don’t wait for someone else to do something. Be that dog’s hero. There is always something we can do. You’ll find you start to feel a lot more powerful and a lot less like curling up and crying. And every time we speak up or take action on behalf of an animal, it helps to amplify and strengthen a larger vision of conscious concern for all animals.
BB: This book brought tears to my eyes every time you spoke about shelter animals but not as often when you talked about the wildlife. I’m sure a lot of people share that disconnect with me, and I’ve been re-evaluating my own outlook on wildlife since reading Zooburbia. Was that your intention when interspersing those topics? How do you handle people who insist that wild animals are not as worthy of their empathy as pets?
TM: In Zooburbia I wanted to tell stories about the lives of animals who are not beloved pets. The animals in Zooburbia are either wild or not wild but unowned and thus unloved, like shelter dogs and feral cats. Perhaps the reason many people feel less empathy for wildlife is because they are wild, we sort of expect their lives to be difficult. Whereas many of us have dogs and cats as family members, and the thought of their suffering is unbearable.
In our society, we’re conditioned to think of responsibility as linked to ownership. We’re responsible for the things and the people and the animals who belong to us. But I think this is an obsolete view. I believe that the wild animals who live around us and among us are a part of our communities, they are our wild neighbors and are deserving of our empathy. While no one owns them, we are still coresponsible for their well-being and safety.
So if your neighbor is putting out rat poison, try to explain to him—gently—that rat poison is going to harm not just rats, but dogs, cats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, owls, hawks, and any animal who find the dead rat and eats it or carries it back to its nest.
BB: I really appreciated your honesty about loathing spiders. Bugs and insects are very hard for me to let be, and I’m nearly phobic of butterflies and moths. How’s the process of spider acceptance going? Any tricks for learning to accept the ickier creatures with an open heart?
TM: It’s an ongoing process. I still get the shivers from spiders, though I’d never kill one. I use a marvelous tool called a Snapy—a plastic wand with a clear plastic chamber at one end—to safely convey spiders from my house back outdoors. Why kill something when you don’t have to?
Try this, next time you come across a spider or other icky bug in your house or garden: give her a name. Once she has a name, she becomes an individual. That seems to go a long way toward decreasing the ick factor and making us feel more sympathetic. E.B. White was well aware of this when he put a spider at the center of Charlotte’s Web.
It’s easy to think of generic “spiders” as icky, but who wants to kill Charlotte?
BB: Speaking of acceptance: You incorporated quite a lot of Buddhist philosophy in Zooburbia. Are you a practicing Buddhist yourself? If so, did this come as a result of your love of nature or vice versa? Or are they too interwoven to tell?
TM: I am not a practicing Buddhist, but I do believe in a Buddhist principle called ahimsa, which means to cause no injury to any living being. It’s also known as nonviolence. Compassion and nonviolence are values that are shared with many different religious and spiritual traditions. I don’t belong to any of them, but I try to follow the principles of nonviolence in my life. Am I always successful? No. But none of us are perfect; all we can do is try to be kind and do the best that we can in every situation.
Q. My husband, who was raised in Africa, often points out the inherent American problem with nature, and I know you discussed that many European countries already incorporate wildlife underpasses on their freeways. Are there any other notable foreign advancements in regards to the harmony between people and nature that you would love to see instituted in the States?
TM: In terms of animal protection, Costa Rica is one of the most progressive countries in the world: Sport hunting is banned, circuses are prohibited from using performing animals, and last year the Coast Rican government announced its plan to close public zoos, setting wild animals free in nature preserves or sending them to sanctuaries where they will be cared for.
India is another country that is making great strides in animal welfare. The Indian government has put an end to animal testing and has proposed a ban on the import of cosmetics that are tested on animals. India has also enacted a ban on keeping dolphins in captivity and is phasing out the use of battery cages for confining egg-laying chickens.
And in 2008, Ecuador adopted a Constitution that grants inalienable rights to nature, becoming the first country to recognize that nature has rights.
These are all groundbreaking policies, and hopefully they will percolate over to the U.S. Legislation—passing new laws or strengthening existing laws—is one of the most effective ways to protect animals. South Dakota recently became the 50th state to make cruelty to animals a felony. We still have a long way to go, but that’s a milestone worth celebrating.
BB: I really need to know if Papagayo ever knew freedom. Or is he still caged and you’re short a friend?
TM: Sadly, as far as I know, Papagayo is still living a solitary life in his cage in the dining room. But Papagayo is only one of many thousands of parrots and other caged birds who live similarly deprived lives. Parrots are highly intelligent and social birds, and they suffer when they are robbed of the chance to participate in flock life.
Their human guardian has to take the place of their flock and that means giving them abundant amounts of love, attention and stimulation. If you’re not up to that challenge—and it can be very time-consuming to properly care for a parrot—you shouldn’t have one.
That’s why I used the epigraph from Xenophon on that chapter: “Anything forced or misunderstood can never be beautiful.” The nature of bird is to fly and to flock. To cage a bird is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of bird.
“Anything forced or misunderstood can never be beautiful.”
BB: Finally, you love, own, and care for species rather indiscriminately, but what’s your favorite animal? Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?
TM: I love both species and get so much joy from each of them. We love categories, and certainly it can be fun to argue the merits of cats vs. dogs. The truth is, I like some dogs better than some cats and some cats better than some dogs. That way all my bases are covered—in case cats and dogs ever acquire the ability to read English.
Published this past autumn to high praise in Canada, where it was shortlisted for the prestigious Governor General’s Award, Joseph Boyden’s extraordinary, historically-set third novel, The Orenda(Knopf), is finally being published here in the U.S.
There are those among us who couldn’t wait, went north, read and loved this book –- and now get to put it in readers’ hands here. Those who knew and loved Through the Black Spruce or Three Day Road will be delighted, as will those new to Joseph Boyden’s work.
“Years from now, The Orenda will be called a classic, but for now Joseph Boyden will have to settle for visionary, majestic, awe-inspiring. The prose is incandescent – and the cultural, tribal, spiritual battles are as gripping as anything I have ever read. There is magic in these pages that will convince you there is magic in the world.” – Benjamin Percy
“A stunning, masterful work of staggering depth … it is like nothing you have ever read, and read it you must … The Orenda is a feat, an achievement [that] is impossible to read without coming away profoundly shaken, possibly changed.” – Robert J. Wiersema, The Vancouver Sun
Books are an incredibly personal thing. Taste is highly subjective when it comes to what moves us, what stirs up long-dormant emotions, and what inspires outright loathing.
It is for all those reasons that choosing the next title for a book group/club can seem incredibly daunting to many people.
Some clubs have thematic guidelines (e.g. mystery, women authors, prize winners, Queen Oprah’s picks) that help them hone in on the next read, but not every group is that easy to choose for.
When I get asked in the store for book group recommendations, after honing in some of the favorite past book selections, I always aim to provide something discussion worthy. That is the point of a book group after all, an excuse to get together, imbibe your preferred liquid poison, and discuss books.
If you’re struggling to come up with your next book group choice, or if you just want something really interesting to bring up at the office, I’ve compiled some of my top recommendations for getting a lively (though hopefully non-violent) discussion going.
Did you know that your favorite author of beloved children’s tales like
and many more is the author of amazing adult fiction that contains enough smut to put some of the best erotica to shame? I simply love seeing people discover a different side to an author they thought they knew so well and to read the magic he weaved with words take place through an adult topic and with adult eyes. The discussions that follow will be hysterical, nostalgic and a little bit steamy.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Italians are weird. Wonderfully weird. When I first read this book it was as part of a book group and I hated it. Then something magical happened, as we sat around discussing why we all thought the book was odd, confusing, overrated I realized that our criticisms were morphing into praise. The second-person point of view went from being a nuisance to being novel. The alternating jumps between incomplete short stories to a narrative being addressed directly to you, The Reader, went from being uncomfortable to truly unique. The twist was pure genius and we all had a favorite chapter. Any book that I hate and then love so hard I recommend it to everyone and has inspired me to read all the Italian books I can get my hands on will surely be a hit at your next book group.
Half my friends still hate this book with a zealous passion. The other half, a half that includes me, find it eye-opening and useful in compiling our thoughts and feelings about the continuing evolution of our generation which is enamored with heritage and the past while having our lives integrated with technology our grandparents could never have imagined. It’s an important book for the conversation on modern feminism. It’s a book that will start many important, possibly hostile conversations.
This and her newest, Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them, are both well-researched but not at all dry examinations of gender and attraction. They work to debunk the Hollywood myths that surround beauty and desirability. I often choose one of these for people who have mixed-gender book groups because I know the discussions they inspire between men and women can lead to some amazing moments of honesty.
You’ll spend the first half of this novel trying to figure out if you’re reading a ghost story or detective noir. Then you’ll spend the second half marvelling at the sneaky way Keith Ridgway has developed such intriguing characters and woven such a suspenseful plot. When you’re turned the last page you’ll either being irate or enamored forever. This isn’t a crime novel. This book has no ending. This book is about capturing a snapshot of lives as they happen. I wish I could be a fly on the wall when you start discussing your frustrations and then move on to what Ridgway has managed to tell you about yourself through it all.
Much like Dahl, I think this or The Cuckoo’s Calling will make excellent discussion books purely for dissecting an author outside of their better known domain of children’s fiction. Rowling’s voice is incredibly distinct. The Casual Vacancy offers up even more discussion with its beautiful and in depth dissection of social issues in England, that are eerily reminiscent to our American ones, and of familial relationships.
Short story collections
Whether it’s Lorrie Moore
…or any of the other superb short story collections available by a whole slew of talented writers you will have discussion for days. Every single person will prefer a different story. Everyone will have discovered a different overarching theme. And every reader will have disliked one particular story more than any of the others. Short story collections are also easier for many people to digest and fit into their busy schedules making these ideal for the less voracious readers in your group.
Any other books you’d suggest people read to start an argument great discussion?