Series Binge-Reading: The Perfect Activity for a Wintery Afternoon

Photo by flickr user Robert
Photo by flickr user Robert

Ah, winter! Perfect for marathon reading sessions indoors, bundled against the blustery elements. Whether you have several whole weeks out of classes, or just a few extra days here and there to fit in some seasonal festivities and max out your relaxation, there’s nothing like a winter’s day off for disappearing into another world for the entirety of a story’s arc, however many volumes it takes.

There are lots of definitions floating around for “binge reading.” Some indicate that it’s about cramming to meet a reading deadline, or skimming as much and as fast as possible. Others look to the new(ish) tradition of binge-watching TV series in marathon installments to describe a similar commitment to reading in large doses, especially within the same series. It’s this last definition that really appeals to me: binge-reading as an intensive, immersive experience for hours and hours (or even days and days) on end. Series titles lend themselves admirably to this sort of extended reading escape. Binging on a series lets you completely submerge yourself in another world, spend inordinate amounts of time with your favorite (and most loathed!) characters, and learn how it all turns out in one fell swoop, all without interrupting the momentum of the plot, or muddying the motives of the characters in your mind with too long a pause between volumes.

So, to help you strategize your total reading immersion during this binge-reading (ahem, I mean holiday) season, here is a list of series worth disappearing into. To help prevent the dreaded, stomach-sinking realization that there are at least ten months between you and finding out what’s happened to your new favorite characters in the next book, every series on the list has every planned volume published. With one notable exception, because I just couldn’t help myself.

knife of never letting go patrick ness coverChaos Walking series by Patrick Ness (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men)

The first book in this pulse-pounding series (The Knife of Never Letting Go, a 2009 Best Books for Young Adults pick) launches readers into a world where the thoughts of all boys and men are audible to everyone around them; and all the girls and women have disappeared. The plot careens around with young Todd, our confused but generally well-meaning protagonist, and then pulls up at the edge of a serious cliffhanger of an ending; for your binge-reading enjoyment, make sure you have the next volume (The Ask and the Answer) lined up to keep going without pause! For readers who like their binge in auditory formats, The Knife of Never Letting Go was also a 2011 Odyssey Honor book. Continue reading Series Binge-Reading: The Perfect Activity for a Wintery Afternoon

Go-To YA Book Recommendations

As someone who is very open about her love of reading, I often find myself in a position of being asked for book recommendations. If I know someone’s reading tastes well, this is usually an easy task. There are also plenty of amazing lists out there that help for making recommendations for someone who is able to give you a specific example of their interests, like The Fault in Our Stars, dystopians, or contemporary romances. It’s those others, though, the ones that don’t consider themselves “readers,” so they are hesitant to name a book they’ve enjoyed that require a little more thought.

Over the past couple of years, I have begun keeping (and updating!) a mental list of “go-to books” that I can easily start with when making recommendations to these individuals. Here are a few of my most frequent go-to recommendations:

Bad UnicornFor the Simpsons Comics Fans Who Want a Non-graphic Novel:

Bad Unicorn by Platte F. Clark

While this book isn’t for everyone, it does has been very well received when I am able to get it into the right hands. These readers are the ones that will laugh out loud and grab it from you when you explain that it is about a killer unicorn named Princess the Destroyer. I have recommended this many times and have received positive feedback from the readers. I have even heard them telling others about it. Bad Unicorn has been getting many more reads than I anticipated the first time I saw it.

gracelingFor the Dystopian Fans Who Are So Over Dystopians

Graceling by Kristin Cashore (2009 Morris Award Honor Book, 2009 Teens’ Top Ten Winner, 2012 Popular Paperback for Young Adults)

I began recommending Graceling after it popped up a few times here on The Hub. While your reader has to be okay with high fantasy, I have found it to be an easy sell to someone who has worked their way through a variety of dystopian and post-apocalyptic future novels and is ready for something new. I think it is more approachable to readers coming out of the Hunger Games series than other fantasy series such as Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness.  Continue reading Go-To YA Book Recommendations

Is This Just Fantasy?: The Reading Life

Just Fantasy The Reading LifeBooks and reading have been integral to my identity essentially my entire  life.  My parents read to me since infancy and my status as a bibliophile has been established nearly as long.  We have a fairly infamous home video featuring my toddler self pulling all the books off the shelves in my room and then fiercely babbling at them the way another child might instruct toys.  Even now I will occasionally refer to favorite books by their main characters’ first names and I have been known to reprimand characters out loud while reading a particularly tense scene.  I have always viewed the world through a sort of double vision—there’s my ‘real’ life and then there’s my life in fiction.  The fictional characters and stories surrounding me have been just as influential ‘real life’ people and experiences. Unsurprisingly, many of the reading experiences with the strongest memories attached to them are connected to fantasy fiction.  Here are a few of the fantasy novels that have now become part of my story.

harry potter and the sorcerer's stone coverThe Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (listed on various annual Best Books for Young Adults lists)

Like so many people of my generation, Harry Potter was and always will be a huge part of my reading history.  I read the first book in middle school, just a few years after it was first published in the U.S. and preceded to read all the subsequent novels, growing up alongside the characters.  I’ve spent an incalculable number of hours reading & rereading the novels, engaging in passionate conversations (and arguments) with fellow fans, or reading fanfiction featuring favorite characters.  I’ve found that in times of stress or anxiety, I turn to my trusty Harry Potter audiobooks and inevitably find both comfort and inspiration in joining Harry, Hermione, & Ron on their journeys.

amber spyglassHis Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass (1997 Best Books for Young Adults), The Subtle Knife (1998 Best Books for Young Adults), The Amber Spyglass (- Phillip Pullman

I cannot actually recall exactly when I first read these complex and incredibly rich fantasy novels, especially since I’ve re-read them several times since.  However sometime in late middle or early high school I was first introduced to Lyra Belacqua and her alternative world–and I’ve been a little bit in love ever since.  These novels are multifaceted and intricate; every time I revisit them, I discover new details and layers.  During my senior year of college, I wrote a paper exploring the connection between John Milton’s portrayal of Eve in his epic poem Paradise Lost and Lyra’s role as a ‘new Eve’ in The Amber Spyglass.  While I enjoyed writing many papers during college, there were few I found as satisfying as that one.       

alannaThe Song of The Lioness quartet, The Immortals series, and more by Tamora Pierce (2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award)

I read my first Tamora Pierce novel in middle school, sometime in 7th or 8th grade.  I have a distinct memory of completing Alanna: The First Adventure during the late hours of a sleepover;  the evening had only emphasized the fact that while I wasn’t a complete outcast yet, I didn’t have any real friends. At that point in my life, my sense of self felt as tenuous and confused as my social life.  But when I read about Alanna (and later Daine & Keladry), I was not only transported–I was transformed.  Alanna and Pierce’s other brave, complex heroines refuse to be anyone but themselves;  they embrace their strengths and pursue their dreams despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles.  And when I disappeared into their world, I felt reassured that I could do the same.  

Kelly and Tamora Pierce
Tamora Pierce and me!

My love for Tamora Pierce’s works also persisted beyond middle and high school.  I made connections with friends during orientation week in college when we discovered our mutual love of these books. While working as a counselor and library assistant at my former high school’s summer ESL program, I introduced a student to the Alanna books on a hunch and was overjoyed when she devoured them.  At the time I was already seriously considering going to graduate school to become a teen services librarian but that experience confirmed my decision definitively.  When Tamora Pierce did an author visit to the school I now work at, it was difficult to tell who has more overwrought with excitement–me or the fans among my students!

the blue swordThe Blue Sword (1983 Newbery Honor), The Hero and The Crown (1985 Newbery Medal), Spindle’s End, and more by Robin McKinley

While Tamora Pierce’s books provided lots of high fantasy action and complex female protagonists, I was always looking for more and Robin McKinley’s many novels fit the bill perfectly.  The Blue Sword The Hero and The Crown are classic high fantasy adventures and coming of age tales full of action and romance while her many fairytale re-imaginings (including Spindle’s End, Beauty, Rose Daughter, and Deerskin) are by turns whimsical, dark, and fascinating.  spindle's endAlso, like the others on this list, they feature compelling and multifaceted heroines. They remain some of my favorite novels to this day and within the last few years I’ve happily recommended to both students and friends; just this past summer, I gave a copy of The Blue Sword to a friend as a wedding/honeymoon present.

gracelingGraceling (2009 Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 Morris Award Finalist) and Fire (2010 Best Books for Young Adults) by Kristin Cashore

During the winter and early spring of senior year of college, I was working on my senior thesis while also nervously awaiting news about graduate school.  Amidst this perfect storm of anxiety, I picked up Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore.  Both novels focus on highly powerful young women who are seeking not only to protect their countries but to discover truths about themselves and their destinies.  I not only fell in love with Cashore’s rich character development and compelling stories, I also felt a strong personal connection with the novels.  I might not possess supernatural powers or be able to save a nation but I too was struggling to discern my future and understand my own potential.

Which books have become part of your story?

-Kelly Dickinson, currently reading Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac

Want to Read S’more? Have Some Ooey Gooey Delicious Books in Threes

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Summer is the perfect time for reading for fun and making s’mores. In fact, yesterday was National S’mores Day.

So I decided to combine these two concepts and give you three books on the same topic – think of them as the graham cracker, the marshmallow, and the chocolate of a s’more- all deliciously good.

Fantasy:

Hub 1

Thrillers:hub 2

Continue reading Want to Read S’more? Have Some Ooey Gooey Delicious Books in Threes

Where Are They Now? Morris Award Finalists & Winners

yalsa morris winnerHave you ever wondered what YALSA’s Morris Award winning authors have been up to today since they were recognized for their first novels? Well then, this post is the one for you.

For a little background, YALSA has been giving out the Morris award since 2009, which honors debut young adult authors with impressive new voices. This post is not intended to be a comprehensive list of  what all of the finalists and winners have been up to, but it’ll give you an idea of what some of our Morris winners and finalists have been writing since winning their awards. (Be sure to take a look at the full list of Morris winners and finalists.)

Then: 2009 Awards 

  • 2009 Winner – A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
  • 2009 Finalist  – Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Continue reading Where Are They Now? Morris Award Finalists & Winners

Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before

phot source: horla varlanI love books and I love music. That being said, it should not be a surprise to learn that I am a big fan of crossovers between the two.

The Hub is no stranger to this fantastic pairing, either: every Wednesday Diane Colson shares with us a book-and-song match in her Jukebooks series, Jennifer Rummel recently used country music as the basis for a booklist, and I referenced my love of book-themed playlists in a previous post.

While scanning through a list of new YA releases recently, I couldn’t help noticing that many of the titles seemed awfully familiar: quite a few of them share (or are very similar to) titles of songs. They may not be similar topically as the pairings in Diane’s posts, but there is no denying that some of these will have you humming the second you see the covers:

Since You've Been GoneSince You’ve Been Gone

When you hear the title of this contemporary story of best friends, summer vacation, and list completion from author Morgan Matson, you may immediately think of Kelly Clarkson’s 2004 chart-topper, “Since U Been Gone.”

 

Don't You Forget About Me(Don’t You) Forget About Me

This new release from Kate Karyus Quinn is a near-match for the Simple Minds classic “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” but that is where the similarities end between this suspense-filled mystery and The Breakfast Club’s theme. Additionally, Quinn’s debut Another Little Piece immediately resulted in Janis Joplin singing “Piece of My Heart” in my head.

 

Continue reading Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before

Is This Just Fantasy?: LGBTQ+ Speculative Fiction

Just Fantasy LGBTQ+ spec ficAs this recurring feature on The Hub clearly indicates, I love fantasy fiction.  But even a fan like myself must acknowledge that the genre has limitations, especially in terms of diversity.  Speculative fiction has remained a fairly white, cis-gendered, & straight world for a long time.  The fact that there seem to be more dragons and robots than LGBTQ+ characters in fantasy & sci-fi novels is shameful and disheartening, especially to the genres’ LGBTQ+ fans.  So in celebration of LGBT Pride Month, I set out to overview the current status of LGBTQ+ representation in young adult fantasy and science fiction.

High Fantasy

ash_malindalo_500For readers interested in issues of diversity & representation in speculative fiction, Malinda Lo is one of the most exciting authors and insightful bloggers out there.  Her work is also the perfect introduction to high fantasy featuring LGBTQ+ characters.  For readers favoring fairy tale retellings, Malinda Lo’s Ash (2010 Morris Award Finalist, 2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults) is an ideal romantic read. In this delicate Cinderella story, an orphaned young woman seeks escape from pain in the promises of a dark fairy but begins to question her choice when she falls in love with the king’s huntress.  Meanwhile, readers looking for quest narratives featuring complex heroines should pick up Lo’s Huntress (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012 Rainbow List, 2012 Amelia Bloomer List), which follows the journey of two very different young women as they attempt to restore balance to the world–and understand their intense connection.  Continue reading Is This Just Fantasy?: LGBTQ+ Speculative Fiction

What Would They Read?: My Little Pony

MLP FIM (800x450)
from deviantart user bluedragonhans

As you probably know, the television reboot of the My Little Pony franchise (Friendship Is Magic) has managed to find an older audience than the elementary school-aged girls one would have expected. As a regular viewer of the show and frequent YA reader, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what titles the ponies would read in their free time.

One thing I really like about the show is that it has a strong pro-female message. The show presents female characters who routinely solve problems by conducting research, reaching out to friends, and finding strength within themselves. In addition to encountering magical Big Bads, the ponies encounter real world problems such as bullying, low self-esteem, over-committing, and being too proud to ask for help. Because of this theme, I have selected books with female protagonists for all of the characters.

Today, I am focusing on three of the main six ponies: Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity.

Twilight Sparkle
from deviantart user shapeshifter95

Twilight Sparkle

When Friendship Is Magic began, Twilight Sparkle was sent to Ponyville to learn the value of having friends. She was the best student studying under the Princess, but she missing a social component in her education. Twilight lives in a tree-house library, surrounded by books and often encourages research when faced with trouble. However, Twilight is also a unicorn and, therefore, magical. She must find balance between magic, research, and friendship to ultimate solve her problems.

Girl-of-Fire-and-Thorns-USI think that Twilight Sparkle would enjoy The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (2012 Morris Award Finalist, 2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults) which is the story of Elisa, a princess and the Chosen One. Married off to a king whose people need her to save them, Elisa lives in a world of magic. She must fight to live long enough to save the people who need her, while avoiding those who hunt her for her power. Twilight has recently become a princess herself and has been forced to save all of Equestria on more than one occasion.

I also think that Twilight Sparkle would enjoy Graceling by Kristin Cashore (2009 Morris Award Finalist, 2009 Teens’ Top Ten, 2012 Popular Paperback for Young Adults) for similar reasons. Royalty, magic, and a strong female fighter would all appeal to Twilight’s love of reading, fantasy, and adventure.  Continue reading What Would They Read?: My Little Pony

YA Books in Real Life: A Group Post for National Photography Month

May is National Photography Month and I thought it would be fun to bring together photos of places that reminded us of YA books, times we dressed up as YA characters, and book titles. I asked my fellow Hub bloggers to share their YA lit-inspired photos, and here’s what we came up with! (Click on the images for larger versions.)

Places in YA Books:
HUB 1

hub 11

Continue reading YA Books in Real Life: A Group Post for National Photography Month

Is This Just Fantasy?: Valentine’s Day Special

Just Fantasy Valentines 2014Valentine’s Day is almost upon us and as heart-shaped cookies, chocolates, and balloons fill shop windows, I must acknowledge that the romance is in air–and on the bookshelves.    And it seems only appropriate to celebrate the holiday by exploring some of my favorite love stories: the romances featured in young adult fantasy fiction, of course.

While particular subgenres of speculative fiction such as supernatural romance and even dystopian or futuristic romance have enjoyed a particular upsurge in popularity over the past few years, I must make a case for the delightful variety, rich character-driven stories, and, yes, swoon-inducing moments available in high fantasy fiction.  Whether you like your romance to be a classic case of initial dislike and misunderstanding turned to love or platonic partnership grown into something more, there’s a something for you!  So here are a few of my favorite high fantasy novels and series featuring that unique magic: romance.

gracelingGraceling – Kristin Cashore (2009 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 William C. Morris Award finalist)  Since discovering her Grace (or superhuman ability) for fighting and killing as a child, Katsa has lived as her royal uncle’s unenthusiastic thug.  But with the help of her tentative new ally Prince Po, Katsa sets out on an epic journey to face frightening secrets–about her abilities, her undecided future, and the dark violence spreading through the kingdoms.

 

Kristin Cashore is a fairly recent but incredibly popular addition to many lists of favorite fantasy writers.  Her debut Graceling features not only an action-packed plot and fantastically complex heroine–it also possesses a wonderful romance.  The developing relationship between Katsa and Po highlights their complementary personalities and explores the complexities of romance for a woman who has worked hard to earn her independence.  Continue reading Is This Just Fantasy?: Valentine’s Day Special