Historical and fantasy fiction have been two of my absolutely favorite genres to read since I was a child. So it follows that historical fantasy–fiction that combines elements of both genres–is one of my greatest literary weaknesses. I’m completely incapable of resisting a good historical fantasy novel!
There are already some excellent guides exploring this growing subgenre available online. Over at their fabulous blog Stacked, Kelly Jensen & Kimberly Francisco have created a number of great genre guides including this one focused on historical fantasy. Additionally, on her blog By Singing Light, Maureen Eichner has an entire page devoted to historical fantasies with middle grade, young adult, and adult titles organized by their chronological settings.
So instead of offering an overview of historical fantasy, I’m going to highlight a few titles that fit into a recent trend. Over the last couple years, I’ve noticed something of an uptick in historical fantasy exploring the first few decades of the 20th century–time periods that have sometimes been underrepresented in this particular subgenre, especially when compared to the medieval and Victorian eras. But if these recent novels are anything to go by, the years between 1900 and 1940 are especially well-suited to the creation of rich, genre-blending stories.
It’s AP Exams season where I work, and finals time for many a college and high school. Which means legions of bleary-eyed students trying to summon up the discipline for a last surge of studying, even though they just want to be done. The sunshine is calling. I hear it too, and even though I’m well past the exam-taking phase of life, I’m still in crunch mode, trying to power through to many deadlines.
For the dedicated bookworms among us, studying for exams generally requires two sets of reading; the materials we’re actually supposed to be reviewing, and the reading we sneak for “study breaks.” This is a calculated strategy (no, really!) designed to achieve the perfect balance of discipline and release, allowing us to get all the necessary reviewing in while also getting enough of a break to feel revived and ready for…still more reviewing. Because the internet and everything that lives there can rapidly turn into a vast time-suck, all responsible students (and worker-bees) know: if you’re serious about getting something done, you have to stay (temporarily) signed out of all the stuff, especially this close to the finish line. And the pitfalls of streaming-binges are obvious, so the TV’s got to stay off too (as do the game consoles).
But a book…a book feels studious, even if what we’re reading isn’t likely to show up on any exams, or help cross anything off a task list.
So. What to read when you don’t really have time to be reading at all, but you absolutely must get a little escape in if you have any hope of staying motivated long enough to cover everything you’ve still got to do?
Unless you are a reader with very good self-discipline, novels are probably out. Novels are what we get to read when everything on the task list is actually done, when grades are in, school is out, and your to-do list is all inked-out lines.
Page count matters when you’re on a deadline. Short-ish graphic novels and short story collections are what we need when time is at a premium; pieces vivid enough to truly escape into, and short enough that we emerge from our work-respite refreshed and ready to dive back into the task at hand.
Here, then, are some suggestions for quick escapes, to tide you over until the freedom of summer is a reality, and not just a highly-anticipated future fantasy.
Lips Touch, Three Times by Laini Taylor. Are you a fan of sweeping fantasy shot through with romance, like Taylor’s epic Daughter of Smoke and Bone series? Well, here are three short stories about three different girls who’ve never been kissed, told in Taylor’s distinct, dramatic style, with brief page counts (but high pulse rates). A 2010 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults book.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. This is an I’m-too-busy-to-read jackpot of a book; short chapters in graphic format, thematically connected to make one creepy wave of foreboding descend over the reader. Gorgeous colors, stick-with-you-after-dark frames, and spare, haunting prose combine to make this 2015 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens pick a fast – but memorable – escape into the murky depths of the woods. Continue reading Study Break Books: Books for when you really don’t have time to be reading.
One of the most frequent readers’ advisory questions I get is also one of the most complicated. Often, a reader asks for a “funny” book. But what does that mean?
Humor is subjective. Some readers might be looking for a book with slapstick-y humor, others might appreciate darker humor, like satire. Some readers don’t mind a book with bits of humor but more dramatic themes overall, others just want an easy, breezy comedy.
Bottom line: matching books with readers looking for a funny book can be tricky.
Since April is National Humor Month, it seemed like a good time to break down the subcategories of humor and offer suggestions for readers looking for funny books.
Satire is the use of humorous exaggeration to expose and criticize, particularly in the context of politics or culture.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (2012 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012 Amelia Bloomer List, 2012 Rainbow List, 2014 Popular Paperbacks) is about a group of beauty pageant contestants who crash land on an island: hilarity ensues. But while a less adept writer might have just mocked the beauty-obsessed girls, but instead, she creates complicated characters who for various reasons—money, love, approval—have all bought into the rigid standards beauty pageant contestants are expected to embody, and in the process, critiques consumerism , reality TV, and of course, pageants.
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults) is the story of Jennifer Strange, a wizard for hire who becomes the last dragonslayer. Like Bray, Fforde critiques the corporate world and consumer culture in this fantasy series sure to put a smirk on reader’s faces.
Teen readers who love satire should also check out the classics from authors like George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut. Continue reading YA Books to Make You Laugh Out Loud
Road trip books make people happy – maybe it’s because they’re seeing the world from the character’s view, maybe it’s because the characters are visiting places we long to visit ourselves, maybe it’s the feel of freedom, maybe it’s the change that inevitably happens to the characters along the way – or maybe it’s a combination. Now that it’s spring time, I’m ready to get in the car, crank the music, and see where the road takes me.
So here are a few road trip books – and because the video’s short, I’ll ask you to add your favorites in the comments.
Books in the Video:
Crash into Me by Albert Borris
The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown
Two-Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt
Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham
Going Bovine by Libba Bray (2010 Printz winner)
Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid
-Jennifer Rummel, currently reading Flunked by Jennifer Calonita
As the number of film adaptations set to be released in the 2015 illustrates, Hollywood seems firmly committed to turning to the world of young adult fiction for inspiration–and box office success. While this trend is exciting for YA fiction fans, the lack of the diversity present in the stories selected remains disheartening. While planning a recent movie night at my library, I was freshly reminded of this problem and as usual, I took to Twitter to share my frustration.
The ensuing discussion was vibrant and, inspired, I polled friends & colleagues to develop a wish list of diverse young adult novels we’d like to see on the silver screen.
Talented young set designer Emi is spending the summer before college with her best friend Charlotte in Emi’s older brother’s apartment when an estate sale & a mysterious letter brings Ava into her life. But despite their immediate, electric connection, Emi & Ava each have pain in their past and their path to happily ever after will be far from simple. Between Emi and Ava’s “will they or won’t they” chemistry, great supporting characters and an intriguing setting, you’ve got the perfect rom-com of the summer!
One Man Guy – Michael Barakiva (2015 Rainbow List)
Alek Khederian assumed that summer school will be an extension of his horrible freshman year; he never expected that it would lead him to Ethan. Alek can’t imagine why someone like confident skateboarder Ethan wants to hang out with him and when romantic sparks start to fly between them, Alek will have re-evaluate everything he knew about himself. This novel isn’t just a lovely coming of age tale–it’s a love letter to New York City and Alek’s Armenian heritage featuring a built-in soundtrack of Rufus Wainwright songs. Continue reading From Page To Screen: A ‘We Need Diverse Books’ Wish List
As a life-long devotee of fantasy fiction, I’ve frequently defended the value of stories that feature dragons, magically gifted heroines, or angst-ridden werewolves. And while I’ve often stated that fantasy fiction isn’t necessarily an escape from reality simply because it includes magic or ghosts, even the most committed fan must acknowledge that the genre is incredibly disconnected from reality in fatal ways. For one, fantasy fiction remains an overwhelmingly white world–an area of literature where you might find vampires or psychic detectives but rarely characters of color.
This lack of diversity is a widespread problem in young adult literature and the larger publishing industry but speculative fiction is especially guilty of inequitable representation within its stories and industry. Just last week, The Guardian published an article by speculative fiction author & essayist Daniel José Older discussing the insidious ways that systemic racism and white privilege has permeated the science fiction and fantasy publishing & fan communities. At last month’s YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium, there was an entire panel titled “Where Are The Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci-Fi?”, which Hub blogger Hannah Gómez recapped with great accuracy & insight.
So, how do we, as readers, fans, & promoters of these genres, demand & nurture fiction with imaginary worlds as diverse as the one we live in? To start, we need to read, buy, promote, and request titles by and about people of color. Accordingly, I pulled together some authors and titles to check out, focusing on fiction that falls on the fantasy side of speculative fiction. This list is far from comprehensive; for more titles, I recommend checking out Lee & Low’s genre-specific Pinterest board, Diversity in YA, and We Need Diverse Books.
2004 Edwards Award winner Ursula K. Le Guin has long been considered one of the best and most beloved high fantasy writers; she’s also consistently written stories with people of color as protagonists–although film adaptions & book covers have often blatantly ignored this, white-washing characters like Ged, the brown-skinned protagonist of A Wizard of Earthsea. The 2013 Edwards Award winner Tamora Pierce also includes characters of color in her novels; her Emelan books feature both black & multiracial protagonists.
Fans of thrilling adventures & complex heroines should try novels by Cindy Pon, Ellen Oh, or Malinda Lo for rich high fantasy tales rooted in a variety of East Asian cultures. Cindy Pon’s lush & exciting Silver Phoenix and its sequel, The Fury of the Phoenix follow young Ai Ling as she discovers her unique abilities and battles an ancient evil based in the royal palace. Ellen Oh’s Dragon King Chronicles (beginning with Prophecy) also focuses on a powerful young woman struggling to embrace her destiny–the yellow-eyed demon slayer Kira who might be the key to saving the Seven Kingdoms from destruction. Malinda Lo’s Ash (2010 Morris Award finalist, 2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults) and Huntress (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012 Rainbow List, 2012 Amelia Bloomer List) are richly imagined, romantic novels I recommend to all fantasy readers! Continue reading Is This Just Fantasy?: It’s A White, White World–And That’s Got To Change.
Today’s post is written by Fredrich Y., a high schooler, writer, and avid reader in Westerville, OH. Thank you, Fredrich, for sharing your thoughts with us! -Becky O’Neil, currently reading We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart
In recent years it seems as if the general Western public has gotten the dangerous idea into their heads that anybody can write a book. Crazy, I know, right? This theory, albeit a major confidence booster, can be largely blamed for the large influx of undeniably, gut-wrenchingly awful literature.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, reader: â€œWhy of course anybody can write a book!â€ And I know that. However, not anybody can write a good book. Anybody can pick up a pen and scribble down a few phrases here and there, but it takes a certain person to convince somebody to pay attention to the scribbles enough to care. Everybody, at some point in time, has flipped open to the first page of a book and instead of being filled with the sense of joy and elation that comes with great literature, has been afflicted with an irresistible urge to hurl it violently against a wall.
That isn’t to say that all books written by underqualified authors are trash – quite the opposite. This theory has contributed to the publication of amazing works such as the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, and Looking for Alaska, by John Green (a 2006 Printz Award winner), that have transformed an entire generation. However, every amazing novel published has its fair share of not-so-amazing counterparts filled with borderline fanfiction and sappy romance plots. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am calling your beloved Twilight, Chosen, and Nicholas Sparks novels pulp fiction.)
This is why I present to you:
Zombie Hunter Average Human’s Guide to Surviving Pulp Fiction
Detecting Pulp Fiction:
1. The Cover
Does the book cover look like something you want to barf at? Odds are, if it does, then the book will make you want to barf too. Yes, I am advising you to judge books by their cover. The cover can tell you more about the book than any excerpt or summary imaginable. Various warning signs include: holding hands, pretty faces, and almost naked teenagers. (Exceptions include the truly amazing Winger, by Andrew Smith, and Golden Boy, by Tara Sullivan) Continue reading Pulp Fiction With a Side of Fries: The New American Pastime, and How to Avoid its Fiery Wrath
May 11-17 is â€œReading is Fun Week,â€ run by Reading Is Fundamental , an organization that works to get books into the hands of children so that they can discover the joys of reading. As a youth services librarian, I often tell parents that their child will be a better reader if they read more, and a key to this is to make sure they are reading for fun. This doesn’t just apply to elementary school kids, though. Young adults and adults should be reading for fun, too. Now this got me wonderingâ€¦do teens read for fun? Come to think of itâ€¦do I read for fun?
One thing I do not remember doing much of when I was in high school was reading for the fun of it. In fact, it took a while for me to remember reading anything other than what was assigned to me in school. I really had to think about it for a while before remembering that I actually read a lot of books for fun when I was a teen. I read R.L. Stine and fantasy books, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and I started to get more into adult fiction because there just weren’t as many Young Adult books and authors back in those days. Today, publishers and authors have tapped into the Young Adult market in a way I wish they had when I was in high school.
Last month, I had intention of selecting books for characters of fantastic TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Surprisingly, I got lost in a Buffy tornado and did not get a chance to discuss the reading habits of anyone else from the show. Let’s see how many characters I get through this month.
Xander Harris – Xander is not much of a reader, as we learn in the show. However, there are a few references to his love of comics. It would be easy to give Xander a few superhero comics and he would be satisfied. That said, I would stay away from any books featuring Daredevil, seeing what happened to Xander in the final season. I would like to expose Xander to a different kind of book- show him what else is out there.
I thought one of the interesting ways to find a book for Xander would be to look at some of his past crushes, hobbies, etc. The first book that comes to mind is probably one of the most bizarre books concepts that I’ve run across this year, but is still completely a Xander pick. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith is the story of two boys who inadvertently bring about six-foot tall praying mantises that may eventually destroy the world. This just seems like a book match made in heaven for Xander. Remember when he developed a crush on his entomology teacher who transformed into a giant praying mantis? What does a guy living on the Hellmouth consider the ultimate horror story? What fuels his nightmares? Vampires and demons are nothing for someone like Xander, but give him giant insects and he’ll be squirming.
Xander longs to be a hero. He had his chance during the first season when he became his Halloween costume and became a soldier. Throughout the show, we see Xander recall his military knowledge and assist in situations. A second choice for Xander’s to-read pile would be Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy. In this book, Danny joins the National Guard in order to help protect his state and country. But when the State Government and the Federal Government decide to turn on each other and a second Civil War threatens America, Danny has to determine what side is the right side. Continue reading What Would They Read?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer continued