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When Authors Are Torturers

Every book lover knows that authors are the source of both our greatest joy and our greatest pain. I’m talking about the often excruciating wait that comes between books from our favorite writers. On a rational level, we want them to take as long as needed to produce a quality novel, but on an irrational level, we’re desperate for our next fix. There are several authors whose disrupted publication schedule is keeping me in suspense at the moment, so here’s a rundown.

J.K. Rowling, as Robert Galbraith, was publishing the Cormoran Strike mysteries like clockwork. 2013, 2014, and 2015 each brought an installment. But 2016…nothing. There’s still no publication date for the fourth book, which means we probably won’t see it until fall at the earliest. I realize that she’s been busy, y’know, writing movie scripts and collaborating on plays. But I need more Cormoran and Robin in my life! The Guardian reports that she’s working on two books: the next Cormoran Strike mystery and a novel under her own name. Here’s hoping for the mystery in the latter part of 2017 and the novel in 2018.

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Meeting Rainbow at NerdCon 2015 when Carry On was freshly released

Rainbow Rowell spoiled us by being impressively prolific in her early years of publication. I believe she was already working on Fangirl (or possibly done with it) by the time Eleanor & Park was published, which resulted in two books in 2013. Then she gave us one book a year until 2016. I know she wrote a screenplay for Eleanor & Park, a movie that didn’t get made, and she signed a deal to write two graphic novels. I’ve been so anxious for the first graphic novel collaboration with Faith Erin Hicks. I imagine that the art side is extremely time consuming, but this announcement was made three years ago. Three years!

My last torturer is Maureen Johnson. Maureen has had some serious health shenanigans in the last few years, so I can’t really begrudge her the delay in her publishing schedule. And yet…the last Shades of London book came out two years ago. I miss my favorite irreverent ghost squad! I reread The Name of the Star recently, which was delightful, but it also made me impatient for the fourth book. She also has a new mystery series scheduled to launch this year called Truly Devious. That could almost make up for Shades of London. (Almost.)


Also at NerdCon 2015, Maureen Johnson leading a Q&A with the Vlogbrothers

In all seriousness, I love these women and will happily read their books whenever they’re released. 2016 was just a dry year for a lot of my favorite authors. In literature we play the long game, so there’s always something to anticipate.



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Best of 2015: Book Edition, Part 1

With a little help from my friends at the library, I was able to read so many awesome new releases this year. If you like young adult or literary mysteries, there’s probably something on one of these lists for you. Here are my best books read in 2015, numbers 10 through 6!

10. The Shadow Cabinet, by Maureen Johnson

The Shadow Cabinet

The Shades of London series is a sneaky favorite of mine. I tend to forget about it, but when the third book came out this year, I was all over the library waitlist. (It didn’t hurt that the second book ended on a torturous cliffhanger.) The moody London atmosphere combined with Maureen Johnson’s irreverent humor make this series unique, and The Shadow Cabinet is the most exciting installment yet.

9. Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen

Saint Anything

Sarah Dessen, my first love in YA, came out with a wonderful offering this year. Saint Anything follows Sydney’s struggles to get out of her older brother’s shadow—a brother who is now in prison for a drunk driving accident. As Dessen protagonists are apt to do, she finds a dynamic group of friends to help her. Since Sarah is a master of characterization, it’s not a bad pattern. Bonus points for a creeper character who truly made me cringe. (You can read my full review here.)

8. Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On

Rainbow Rowell’s first fantasy novel is already cause for excitement. Her first fantasy novel that’s also a clever critique of Chosen One narratives—that’s even better. The story is full of complicated friendships and uneasy alliances. As always, Rainbow has a knack for putting her characters in exactly the situation you want to see them in. I’m also seriously envious of the art throughout the book, from the cover art to the section break illustrations to the beautiful map of Watford School of Magicks. (You can read my full review here.)

7. Yes Please, by Amy Poehler

Yes Please

Yes Please is one part personal anecdotes and one part sage advice. I love the design of the book with its color photographs and reproductions of various mementos. My favorite chapter is about performing on Saturday Night Live while pregnant with her first child. It’s just the right combination of behind-the-scenes details and broader commentary on the female experience. I set down Yes Please feeling motivated to “do the thing.” (You can read my full review here.)

6. Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith

Career of Evil

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have new J. K. Rowling in my life, pseudonym or no. It stands to reason that she can write a good mystery, but I didn’t expect to fall so completely in love with her detective characters. Career of Evil is my favorite book of the series because it reveals more details of Cormoran and Robin’s pasts. I was in serious denial for days after finishing this book because I didn’t want it to be over. (You can read my full review here.)

Tomorrow is the grand finale: my top 5 books of 2015!


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Carry On, Rainbow Rowell

Carry On

No one can accuse Rainbow Rowell of being lazy. Or un-inventive. Or un-awesome…but I digress. In the past four years she’s published five novels, three young adult and two regular adult. She’s written about 1980s misfits, the first year of college, and falling in love through technology. Yes, she always writes about love and relationships (among other things), but she approaches the subject from a unique angle each time. As her first foray into the fantasy adventure genre, Carry On proves that she’s only becoming more ambitious.

I’ve really enjoyed trying to explain the premise of Carry On to people, including a random girl at NerdCon. If you haven’t read Fangirl, it’s confusing. Cath, the protagonist of Fangirl, is heavily involved in the fan community for Simon Snow, a series invented by Rainbow to occupy a similar space as Harry Potter in Cath’s world. Fangirl includes short passages from the Simon Snow books, as well as snippets of Cath’s fan fiction. A key component of the fan fiction is that Cath writes about Simon falling in love with his archenemy Baz. (Yes, there are serious Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy undertones, except that Baz is also a vampire.) Then Rainbow became so interested in Simon and Baz that she decided to write her own book about them. As I said, confusing.

Luckily nerds tend to like things a little complicated. Wrapping our brains around the relationships between a fictional book series, fan fiction about that series, and a real-life standalone book is our idea of fun. (Hopefully when I say our, I’m not just talking about me. The verging-on-mob scene before Rainbow’s signing at NerdCon would suggest that others share my feelings.) All this to say that I was fully on board to read about teenage wizards falling in love. And read about them I did, but to my surprise, the romance was secondary to the plot more so than any other Rainbow Rowell novel. I have no problem admitting that after a certain point I was asking, “But when will there be kissing?!”

Simon Snow is the Chosen One who has no idea how to fulfill his role. Rainbow has discussed in interviews how she’s read many Chosen One stories over the years, and Carry On was an opportunity to explore her opinions about the whole concept. As she said to The Toast, “How would it really feel to have a strange old man take you away from everything you’ve ever known because he needed you to fight a war that started before you were even born?” The mages in Carry On are more in touch with the normal world than, for instance, the wizarding world of Harry Potter. While allowing Rainbow to make her signature pop culture references, this connection also gives her some freedom to critique the genre in which she’s simultaneously participating.

As a reader, I found the critique to be the most successful aspect of Carry On. Rainbow is an astute observer of storytelling patterns, and she proved in Fangirl that she understands how people can be critical of something while still loving it immensely. The Simon and Baz relationship originated from the idea of finding romantic subtext where it’s probably not intended by the creator. The romantic aspects of Carry On sometimes felt more subtextual than I would have liked, but since it’s Rainbow Rowell, there are still moments worthy of a swoon.

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NerdCon: Stories, Day Two

When I got to the convention center on Saturday, Friday felt like it had been a practice round. Now I knew where the bus stops were and the layout of the venue. I knew that a water bottle was unnecessary and to sit near the aisle unless you enjoy feeling trapped. I also brought a better tote bag. (Well, my free NerdCon tote broke while I was waiting for the bus on Friday, but I probably would have brought a different one anyway.) And perhaps most importantly, I caffeinated early.

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The mainstage shows on Saturday were on point. John Green opened the morning show with his own explanation for why stories matter, and it was probably my favorite talk of the entire event. He spoke about stories as the only way to be someone other than ourselves and how escapism can be valuable. I’ve actually given some thought to why I think reading is important, and my answer is that it teaches empathy. Apparently John Green and I are on the same page, which pleases me to no end. There was also a rapid-fire Q&A with some of the guests and a poetry reading. How many events are there where a poetry reading gets massive crowd support? And hello, Dessa Darling was one of the performers. (Dessa is a member of Doomtree, a popular Minneapolis hip hop group, and a solo artist. She’s rad.)

My first panel of the day was No Pressure: How to Keep Creating Once You’ve Technically Succeeded. Not a problem for me currently, but an interesting topic featuring some of the most interesting guests at the convention. We’re talking Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Dessa, and moderator Patrick Rothfuss. Hearing about creative struggles and insecurities feels more personal than most topics discussed in a convention setting. It didn’t hurt that every member of the panel has an excellent sense of humor. Seems odd to say that the panel least applicable to me was also the best, but that’s what I’m sayin’!

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My next panel was going to be Is This A Kissing Book?: Writing Sex, but instead I felt the might of the Patrick Rothfuss fandom. When I left the main auditorium, there was already a loooooong line outside the smaller auditorium where the aforementioned panel was taking place. Were many of them waiting to see their bearded overlord and not interested in kissing at all? It seems probable. After a few hopeless minutes in line, I decided to scrap it and take the hour to eat lunch and head to the Rainbow Rowell signing. And oh my goodness, am I lucky that I got there early.

Hank Green and Rainbow Rowell had the same consecutive time slots for signings. The first session was full long before I got there, and despite the fact that we weren’t supposed to line up until one hour beforehand, people were already loitering for the next session. It was definitely the most “yuck, there are people everywhere” moment of the convention for me. I was getting anxious on behalf of the volunteers being stared down by a crowd of impatient fans. However, I met some nice female comrades while waiting in line, plus running into a former coworker from the bookseller days.

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This signing needed to move along faster than the one I attended two years ago. We were near the end of the line, and it was almost time for the afternoon mainstage show. Once again I was thankful for my pre-written note to give her. We did still manage to have a brief but ridiculous exchange. When I approached the table, she said, “Are you Courtney?” My expression was utterly shocked because I was thinking, There’s no way she remembers me from two years ago, right? This woman meets thousands of fans, after all. Then I remembered that I was wearing a nametag. Well, we had a nice chuckle about that, and I scored some awesome Simon Snow pins.

I was originally planning to hit up one more book signing—Maureen Johnson, after the mainstage show—but after the battle to get to Rainbow, I was rather wiped out. I decided to just enjoy the show, and if there was room at the Maureen signing afterwards, so be it. (There wasn’t.) The highlight for me was a mock debate between two teams of guests on such vital topics as: would you rather fight a hundred duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? Few things are more entertaining than watching people get worked up over ridiculous arguments. The afternoon ended with a couple thousand people singing along to a Paul & Storm song about Game of Thrones.

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I left the convention feeling inspired about my own creative work and grateful that so many other people appreciate good stories and storytellers.

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An Abundance of Books for Fall

Fall always seems to be a great time for new book releases. And while I certainly wouldn’t wish away the rest of the summer, I’m starting to get excited for new books from many of my favorite authors.

The Heart Goes Last on September 29!

The Heart Goes Last

Margaret Atwood most recently wowed the literary world with her MaddAddam trilogy. The Heart Goes Last has a different dystopian setting, but one can assume it touches on some classic Atwood themes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I suppose? I’m excited by the fact that The Heart Goes Last seems to have a greater focus on relationships. In exchange for a comfortable home the rest of the year, a married couple agrees to spend every other month in prison. Then they both become obsessed with the couple that occupies their home on alternate months. Best case scenario, this book could occupy an interesting space between the MaddAddam trilogy and The Blind Assassin.

Carry On on October 6!

Carry On

Does this require any explanation? It’s Rainbow Rowell! Carry On is an offshoot of the fictional fantasy series that’s the obsession of Cath in Fangirl. A fictional world from within another work of fiction becomes a real life book. Yes, it’s all very meta in the best possible way. Carry On promises all the romance and emotion of her previous books but with the addition of magic. Since Rainbow professes to be primarily a fantasy reader in her own life, I trust her to explore a new genre. Not to mention this cover is so unexpected and BEAUTIFUL. I will be dancing all the way to the bookstore on October 6.

Career of Evil on October 20!

Career of Evil

I recently declared myself a fan of the Cormoran Strike mystery novels. Since I was almost two years late to the party, the third novel is already coming out this fall. I can’t wait to be reunited with Cormoran and Robin, and the plot summary promises that this mystery will require delving further in Cormoran’s past. As I mentioned in the previous post, I already have the first two books in paperback, so I will try to resist buying the hardcover. The library wait list is the answer for now. Obviously I’m not going to wait another year for the paperback release. Bless the prolific talents of Ms. J. K. Rowling.

Tower of Thorns on November 3!

Tower of Thorns

My love for Juliet Marillier is documented on the blog, but I haven’t talked about this relatively new series. I read Dreamer’s Pool, the first Blackthorn and Grim novel, back in January. In typical Marillier fashion, Blackthorn is a healer, but she’s of humbler origins than the Sevenwaters protagonists. Not unlike a good detective series, Blackthorn and her friend Grim help unravel a mysterious and probably supernatural happening while Blackthorn deals with her personal demons. The prose is as lovely as I expect from Marillier’s adult novels. I can’t wait to hold this hefty hardcover in my hands.

As much as I would love to purchase every single one of these books, I will be utilizing library requests in some cases. I’m a little behind on my reading goal for the year, which is often the case around this time, so these new releases should make it easier to catch up. Did I miss anything exciting?

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Best of 2014: Book Edition, Part 2

You guys, these books are so good. I hope you enjoy my top 5 books of the year, and when you’re done enjoying, maybe go check one out. (Or, you know, all of them. Whatever.)

5. Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss is the first in a series of related books, and I could easily have included any of them on my favorites list. However, there’s something special about Anna, the story of a high school senior sent to a boarding school for Americans in Paris. It has just the right balance of wish-fulfillment and relatable characters. I love Anna’s interest in cinema, not to mention her swoon-worthy Paris romance. Stephanie Perkins creates a world that I was all to happy to live in for two more books.

4. Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places

While reading Dark Places, I was constantly trying to solve the mystery, even when I wasn’t actually reading. Libby is the lone survivor of the night her brother killed her mother and sisters, a childhood trauma that has turned her into a less than functional adult. However, an unlikely alliance with real crime enthusiast/nerd Lyle leads her to rethink what she thinks she knows about the night that changed her life forever. The plot unfolds with fiendish tenacity between Libby in the present and her brother Ben on day of the murders. I defy you to stop turning the pages. (Click here for further discussion.)

3. The Other Typist, by Suzanne Rindell

The Other Typist

Friendship can be a transformative influence, as several of the books on this list attest, but The Other Typist deals with a darker transformation. Rose Baker is a by-the-book typist for the New York City police department, until a new typist joins her precinct. Odalie is a Roaring Twenties daydream worthy of Jay Gatsby. Beneath the trappings of speakeasies and flapper haircuts, this novel is an engrossing study of identity. Is it truly possible to change who we are? (I had plenty more to say in my full review here.)

2. Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell


Reading Attachments is like watching a really good romantic comedy, one that’s genuinely romantic and funny. In the early days of office internet, Lincoln is hired to monitor employee emails for a newspaper. In the line of duty, he reads the messages between two women and falls in love with one of them. The premise may sound far-fetched, but Rainbow Rowell has a knack for bringing realism to any scenario. One of my bookstore coworkers asked which Rainbow Rowell character would be my ideal boyfriend, and I had to say Lincoln. He’s the perfect combination of sweet, awkward, and self-deprecating.

1. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity won the Printz Award for good reason. It opens with a British spy writing her confession in a French Gestapo prison. However, she uses the time and paper to tell about her best friend Maddie, the transport pilot who flew on this already-doomed mission. The story is absolutely gripping, made all the more so by the fierce bond of friendship that the reader can feel between the two friends. Code Name Verity has everything going for it: strong writing, characters, and plot. It’s also covers two of my favorite genres (young adult and historical fiction), making it an easy pick for my favorite book of the year.

Thanks for joining me on this year-end retrospective. Catch you in 2015!


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Best of 2013: Book Edition, Part 2

There was some stiff competition, but these books prevailed. Here are my top 5 books of 2013!

5. City of Thieves, by David Benioff

City of Thieves

I love when a novel can entertain me and teach me something new. In the case of City of Thieves, I learned about the Soviet Union during World War II, specifically the siege of Leningrad. Lev is a young man of Leningrad arrested for looting. Instead of receiving the usual punishment, he and an army deserter are sent on an unlikely mission to find eggs for a wedding cake. This book is both highly amusing and rather devastating, so it makes sense that the author is also an executive producer on Game of Thrones.

4. MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood

MaddAddam Cover

My love for Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy is well-documented on the blog, from Oryx and Crake to The Year of the Flood. The final installment came out this fall, and I was not disappointed. The book satisfactorily brings together characters from the first two novels with typical Atwood flair for precise details. As if that wasn’t enough, MaddAddam also explores the history of Zeb, perhaps the most enigmatic character from The Year of the Flood. His story brings the reader to exciting new corners of this frighteningly familiar future.

3. Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park

Meeting Rainbow Rowell was one of the highlights of my year. It was the culmination of a lot of fangirling on my part, and it all started with Eleanor and Park. One thing that I enjoy about young adult authors, and Rainbow Rowell in particular,  is that they don’t shy away from sentiment. Maybe they feel free to do this because their teenage readers are often highly emotional beings. Whatever the reason, Eleanor and Park will let you relive the agony and ecstasy of first love in the most delicious fashion.

2. The Giver, by Lois Lowry

The Giver Cover

I can’t believe that I didn’t read The Giver until this year. Several book-loving friends have reprimanded me for it. Once I had the book in hand, I read most of it in one night, which is something I rarely do. It’s a children’s book that raises some very mature questions. What is the role of pain, both physical and emotional, in human life? And if painful memories were removed, what would be the cost? Lowry examines these questions through simple yet powerful prose. This book deserves its status as a classic.

1. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell


Fangirl is the obvious choice for number one, but it’s also the honest choice. No other book made me cringe so much for its characters and rejoice in their triumphs. You know how teenagers in movies or TV always seem completely unreal? (In part because they’re usually played by twentysomethings, but also in their behavior.) That is never a problem in Rainbow Rowell’s books. Her characters feel so real that you want them to be your friends, or maybe feel like they already are. (If you want even more thoughts on Fangirl, the link is here.)

I look forward to another great year of reading in 2014!

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