Posted in Author Wellness Plan, Book Lists

10-minute Author Wellness Plan: Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young*This is a new feature I’m trying out for the blog: instead of 5-minute book prescriptions, I will occasionally suggest an author, who has written multiple great books and of whom I suggest embarking on a study. 

A few weeks ago, as the official end of summer approached, I quickly inhaled Gabrielle Zevin’s new book Young Jane Young, which tells the story of college student Aviva Grossman, who takes an internship with a charismatic Florida congressman named Aaron Levin. As a result of the complicated web of desire, flattery and normal young adult impulses, Aviva embarks on a months long relationship with the much older man. Since the story takes place around 2001, blogs are just starting to become a thing and Aviva decides to write about her experiences on what she thinks is a completely anonymous website. But when a car accident reveals the congressman and intern together in a car, people start digging and the truth comes out, along with the sordid details Aviva wrote about on her blog. The senator, as one might expect, emerges somewhat unscathed over the years, continuing his career. Aviva, on the other hand, becomes a punch line, a joke. Unable to get a job, notorious nearly everywhere she goes in South Florida, Aviva falls into a deep funk, floundering the days away at her parent’s house, immobilized by shame, fear, misery and anger.  Eventually she decides to make a change–literally. She legally changes her name to Jane Young, borrows money from her kind grandma and moves all the way North, to a small town in  Maine called Allison Springs. Oh and did I mention that she is pregnant?

storied life of aj fikry

It was charming and funny and quirky– not unlike another novel of hers that I read and loved last year: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  In that funny, sad, hopeful tale, we meet a widowed bookstore owner who finds a baby on his doorstep one morning and decides to become her caretaker.

As I finished up Young Jane Young, I found myself pondering Zevin and her unique literary voice. In addition to featuring cranky but lovable characters, Zevin often deploys some kind of interesting plot detail or point of view choice, that feels… well, weird! In Young Jane Young, the philandering congressman’s wife, who has recently been through cancer, has an invisible pet parrot that is always with her, squawking the truth whether she wants to hear it or not. elsewhereIn Elsewhere, an utterly delightful and moving story that features more than a little weirdness, the book begins with the narrative perspective of the deceased teenage girl’s dog. Shortly after, the girl herself, 15-year old Liz, wakes up on a boat and learns that she has died after being hit by a taxi, and is on her way to the afterlife, where she will age backwards before being sent back to earth again as a baby. Although this ambitious plot is not without holes, I found it to be an incredibly moving and comforting way to think about life after death. Give this to someone who has recently lost a person near and dear to them.

Sorry, I digressed a bit about Elsewhere. Back to the weirdness I was talking about before. It almost seems as if Zevin sometimes starts to write one kind of book and ends up writing another. And yet– it always works! Despite, or maybe because of her quirkiness, Gabrielle Zevin has recently become one of my favorite working novelists. She is an author you can give to almost anyone: your aging parents, your 1- year old niece, your 30-year old coworker. Zevin’s stories are wonderfully universal, exhibiting a lovely understanding and forgiveness of human nature. Her stories will absolutely stick with you long after you finish reading them and will encourage you to think about life and death in ways you maybe haven’t before.

Last night as I wondered one of my favorite bookstores, I looked for extra copies of each of the three books of hers I have read so far, so that I could stockpile them to give as gifts. If there’s a better endorsement for an author, I don’t know what it is. I recommend starting with The Storied Life, as I did, followed by Young Jane Young, and, finally Elsewhere. Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of a well-rounded summer reading list , or What to read this summer, part 1.

Ah, summer. The ultimate time to lounge around with a book. A book to read while floating in the pool, lying on a beach,  lolling in the grass, lazing in bed. A book for all occasions!

For many people, summer books are synonymous with “beach reads,” aka books that are super easy to get into and to understand and books that will compel you to keep reading. Personally, I prefer more of a mix to my summer reading list: a little historical fiction here, a little juicy romance there, sprinkled with a few diverse titles that bridge many categories. To help get the ball rolling on your summer reading plans, I have some suggestions, arranged by category, for your reading enjoyment. Peruse away, and be sure to let me know what titles worked for you—or didn’t!

True Crime

blackmassirishmobfbiBlack Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr  and Gerard O’Neill

A Massachusetts classic! Before I moved here, I kept hearing the name Whitey Bulger, and I had no idea who this person was or what he famous for, but I had the strange idea that he was some kind of folk hero. Then I read Black Mass.  Friends: Whitey Bulger is no folk hero. He is a bad, bad man. This story is written in a somewhat cheesy crime writer style that occasionally made me cringe, but no matter — the story is crazy enough to forgive that detail and hold your attention from start to finish. Read it just in time for the forthcoming movie, starring Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger. To summarize a very long and detailed story quickly: Whitey Bulger was (is?) an Irish mobster and murdered based in South Boston, who terrorized his community and worked as an informant for the FBI in an attempt to bring down a Mafia family invading his turf. If all of this sounds familiar, the well known film The Departed was a slightly fictionalized version of the Whitey Bulger story. Black Mass is a completely absorbing tale that promises to freak you out if you are unfamiliar with the details and especially if you happen to call Boston your home.

Mystery/ Thriller

We were Liars by E. Lockhart

A breathless read that keeps you guessing from page one and is almost guaranteed to surprise you at the end. I thought we were liarsI had it all figured out for most of the story and turned out to be completely wrong. Cadence Sinclair Easten comes from a big wealthy family who spend every summer on their private island. We Were Liars tells the story of these many summers, dancing around one particular summer that Cadence seems unable to remember. Something happened, but what? Haunting, original and written in E. Lockhart’s lyrical prose, We Were Liars is the perfect book to read on vacation. But make sure you bring a second book, because you will blow through this one in no time.

Memoir

Hole in my Life by Jack Gantos

hole in my lifeKnown to many as the beloved author of award winning books for children, including the Rotten Ralph and Jack Henry series, Jack Gantos lead an incredibly interesting and winding life prior to finding success as a writer. As a teenager living in South Florida and St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands, young Jack struggled to find his way and often found himself getting in trouble and failing at school. While in St. Croix, he makes the poor decision to sail a boat stuffed with hash up the East Coast in exchange for $10,000. The trip goes badly and Jack finds himself in jail. What was that experience like and how did it shape him into the Newberry Award winning writer he is today? The excellent Hole in My Life will answer all your questions. Consider listening to this one on audio book, as Gantos reads it himself and his voice and mannerisms are pretty great.

Novels: Super sweet, well done and fun

I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson

ill give you the sunTwins Jude and Noah, once inseparable, have become increasingly estranged following the tragic death of their mother in a car accident. Each twin is enmeshed in a web of confusion and excitement as they explore new paths in their lives and come to terms with some buried secrets and revelations about themselves and their lost mother. Told in their alternating voices, both of which soar with a unique and individual style, I’ll Give you the Sun offers a multi-layered story full of empathy and anger and love and fear and, ultimately a sense of happiness and peace. This lovely novel also offers a great perspective on what it means to be an artist.

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

This awesomely eccentric and unique novel brings to mind the world of filmmaker Wes Anderson (The Royal bellweatherTennenbaums, Rushmore) and the quirky charm of the television show Glee. The story takes place entirely within the walls of the grand old Bellweather Hotel. When Minnie Graves was ten years old, she witnessed a gruesome murder suicide at the hotel and has never quite recovered. Fifteen years later, she has returned on the anniversary of the incident, at the same time a big statewide annual music conference is happening, bringing a whole slew of interesting characters to the hotel. Stuffed with an array of fascinating characters, who –wait for it– are unexpectedly snowed in at the hotel, Bellweather Rhapsody unfolds like an old fashioned murder mystery, with plot twists and long-buried secrets and even a showdown involving the hotel pool. Great fun! I highly recommend.

Novels: Fizzy, sexy, fun. No brainers.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

austenlandThirty-two year old Jane Hayes is Jane Austen (and Mr. Darcy) obsessed–to an unhealthy degree, and her loved ones are starting to worry. When her great aunt dies and leaves her an all-expenses paid vacation to Pembrook Park, a British resort where guests live like characters in Jane Austen’s novels, Jane finally has the chance to live her dream. The result is hilarious and sweet and particularly entertaining for all you Colin Firth / Mr. Darcy fans out there. Be sure to watch the equally funny film version after you’ve read the book!

The Royal We by Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks

A thinly disguised story of Princess Kate and Prince William’s courtship and wedding. Although a few changes haveroyal we been made (our heroine is American, with a twin sister), the story is very recognizable for anyone who knows even a little bit about the adored royal couple in England. This breezy beach read follows the two and their endearing group of friends as they meet at Oxford and proceed to navigate the rough terrain of a paparazzi-stalked relationship, in which appearances are everything. Fun, easy and sure to deliver the ending you hope for.

Novels: Rambling but absorbing family drama with a New England component.

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

maineI am an avowed van of Sullivan, whose book Commencement, I raved about a few posts ago. She is a writer to watch – that perfect mix of absorbing family drama and literary skill. Maine tells the story of four Kelleher women as they navigate their last summer in the family beach house: Alice the matriarch who  reminisces about her past and has trouble accepting all of the changes in her family and the world around her; Maggie, Alice’s 32 year old granddaughter who has just discovered she is pregnant but has yet to tell her sporadic boyfriend;  Maggie’s mother Kathleen, who has abandoned New England for a new life in California;  and Ann-Marie, Alice’s daughter-in-law, an uptight, quietly suffering wife who is determined to keep up appearances. Jumping back and forth in time and moving easily among several narrative voices, Sullivan brings a compelling and sympathetic eye to everyone she writes about. The perfect tale to read whilst lounging nightly with a glass of wine.

Novel: the classic

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

eastofedenThe summer is a great time to tackle a classic and John Steinbeck’s glorious novel East of Eden is a perfect choice, particularly if you don’t think of yourself as a reader of classics. Set in California during the first part of the 20th century, East of Eden follows the intertwined lives of two families–particularly two brothers who are in love with the same woman. Echoing the story of Cain and Abel, this gorgeous novel was the first Steinbeck I’d ever read and I was blown away and almost saddened that I had waited so long to read his work. His sentences are works of art, with each word carefully and exquisitely chosen. You feel like you are reading something profound yet approachable. Steinbeck’s prose goes down easy and you will feel genuine sadness when the story is over, for his writing makes you want to stay in his company forever.

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Four Great Books about Mothers — Being one, Having one, etc.

The best and hardest thing in your life just might be your relationship with your mother. It is never simple and it is never no big deal. Just ask Freud–he’ll tell you. Growing up and having kids of one’s own proves even more incredible and challenging, adding layer upon layer to what is already the most complex and possibly important relationship in a person’s life. But don’t take my word for it. Check out these four lyrical, original, gorgeous novels about motherhood.

The hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
hand that firstO’Farrell’s novel follows two women, separated by 50 years, as they experience pivotal points in their life. Lexie Sinclair escapes her boring country life for London and finds herself thrust into the center of the dream  life she’s always wanted. When she finds herself pregnant and unattached, she has no qualms about having the baby on her own and and does so with aplomb. 50 years later, we meet Elina, a brand new mother having undergone a rather traumatic surgical birth experience. Veering unsteadily through her new life as a mother, Elina struggles to regain her balance. Weaving together the two stories into a satisfying conclusion, Maggie O’Farrell has created a winning novel. Her writing is a gorgeous meditation on women’s lives, the creation of the self and what happens when becoming a mother shakes your foundations. I read this about a year after having my first child and it was the only book I read that accurately described how I felt in those first emotional months of motherhood. That part of the book combined with the excitement of Lexie’s story in postwar London makes it an ideal read.


Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Can we just hand this book out on street corners, please? Everyone is always looking for a funny, whered you gowell-written story, and it can be hard to find something that meets both criteria. Bernadette is a famous architect who lives in Seattle with her Microsoft Guru husband and her 15-year old daughter, Bee. Growing increasingly agoraphobic, Bernadette goes to great lengths to avoid the other parents at her daughter’s school and uses a personal assistant in India to run her life. One day, Bernadette disappears and her daughter uses emails, receipts and official documents to piece together where her mother might have gone and what sent her running.  Where’d you go Bernadette is a like a cross between a Wes Anderson Film and a piece written by Tina Fey. Funny, sad, intimate and really, really interesting. I believe they’re making this into a movie, but I don’t want to see it unless it’s a. starring Tina Fey or Toni Collete as Bernadette and b. adapted and directed by a woman.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

reconstructing ameliaKate is reeling from the news that her 15-year old daughter, Amelia, has committed suicide by jumping off the roof of her school. Then she gets an anonymous text that reads simply: Amelia didn’t jump. Kate delves into her daughter’s life, talking with her friends, going through her things, trying to solve the mystery of her life and untimely end. Interspersed with Amelia’s emails, texts and Facebook posts, we learn more about Kate’s life, and the never ending guilt she feels as a full time working, single mom. This engaging story does a fine job toeing the line between indulgent beach read and affecting literary drama. I gulped the whole thing down in about three days.

Everything I never told you  by Celeste Ng

Like Reconstructing Amelia, this graceful novel has something essentially sad at its core: the death of a teenage girl. Written in muted, lovely language, this story follows a Chinese American everythingfamily living in small town Ohio. Wife and mother Marilyn is eternally frustrated by her foiled career as a medical doctor, having chosen to be a mother and homemaker instead. She pours all of her hopes and dreams into her daughter Lydia, pushing and pushing her to be the best at everything and barely paying attention to her son, Nathan. When Lydia turns up dead, having drowned in the nearby lake, long buried emotions begin to leak out of every crack in this tortured family. Despite the heaviness of the story, Ng’s novel is an easy read, and serves as a wonderful reminder to let our children pursue their own dreams instead of ours.

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Don’t overlook the noble audiobook! Enliven the mundane aspects of your life with a good listen.

For a lifelong voracious reader, I  came to audiobooks very late. I always assumed that audiobooks, no matter the story, would be incredibly dull, with some lackluster voice droning in my ear. Reading a story was my job! My activity! Boy, was I ever wrong about that. I got stuck in a rather long commute a few years back and grew sick of sitting in traffic. One can only take so much NPR and even my music collection grew tiresome after a while. Since I was working in a library, I spent a lot of time shelving audiobooks. I decided to pick up Little House in the Big Woods, just to see what it was like to revisit those old, beloved stories. Friends: It was a revelation. Audiobook narrators are actors more than anything — a very important detail I failed to realize. Stories are conveyed with emotion and range, the narrators do voices and there are even occasional musical accompaniments and sound effects.  Audiobooks, I realized, are a way for me to inhale even more stories than I already do! And they fill the many hours in my week in which I am doing the mundane chores of everyday life: washing dishes, commuting, folding laundry, even going for a run. The best audiobooks, like the best books, lift you out of your ordinary life and transport you somewhere else for a little while.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t dud audiobooks out there. Like anything, you may have to try a few before you find one that catches your attention and keeps it. Keep in mind that having a library card will help you check out a wide variety of audiobooks without spending a penny. Check out the actual cds or download digital audiobooks to your iphone or smartphone. Digital audiobooks are my preferred method, since they are so delightfully portable and can be accessed anywhere at anytime. If you don’t have a library card, or are very impatient about waiting for things on a hold list, try audible.com. They have great deals and membership plans for audiobook lovers, and you access everything from an app on your smartphone. Here are a few of my favorite audiobooks for your consideration.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

city-of-thievesDavid Benioff, in case you need reminding, is the showrunner for a modest little show you may have heard of called Game of Thrones. He and his partner are responsible for adapting the story and bringing it to HBO. Well, before all that, he wrote a damn good novel. City of Thieves follows two young men, Lev, a Russian-Jewish emigre living in Leningrad, and Kolya, a Cossack soldier. Lev gets arrested for looting the body of an ejected Luftwaffe pilot and Kolya is arrested for deserting his unit. After meeting in jail, the two men are thrown into a surreal journey through Leningrad after a Russian Colonel orders them to find fresh eggs (a luxury in the starving, desperate city of Leningrad) to use for the cake at his daughter’s upcoming wedding. Super-compelling and perfectly paced, this story is great in any format, but the audiobook is enhanced exponentially by the performance of actor Ron Perlman. Perlman, best known for his role on the television series Sons of Anarchy, brings a delicacy and a gravity to the story and turns an otherwise really good book into an addicting good book. You will want to suspend everything else you are doing just to keep listening.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Oh, Shirley Jackson, no one does creepy like you. This much loved story follows the shunned Blackwood family, who live in a large, isolated house set outside a village. The story is narrated by 18-year old Mary Katherine, “Merricat”, who lives with her older sister Constance and her ailing Uncle Julian. The reader/listener will quickly surmise that all is not right with Merricat, we have always lived in the castlewho looks upon the world with suspicion, hatred and a quick and vicious violence that cuts into her narrative when you least expect it. Through Uncle Julian’s ramblings and Merricat’s scattered comments, we learn that six years earlier, the rest of the Blackwood family was poisoned at dinner, by arsenic hidden in the sugar bowl. Constance, who didn’t sprinkle “sugar” on her dessert blackberries,  was tried and acquitted for the murder, but the whole town remains suspicious of her. Things unravel slowly, and the unreliable Merricat keeps you guessing in this exciting, twisted story. The audiobook narrator, Bernadette Dunn, has the perfect voice for every character and you will completely forget that you’re listening to one person. This tale, with its creeping suspense and growing paranoia, works well in the audiobook format, as your mind will race around trying to solve the mystery and  won’t have time to wander.

Longbourne by Jo Baker

LongbourneLongbourne is the story of Pride and Prejudice told from the point of view of the household servants. The idea is brilliant,  but I was skeptical of Baker’s ability to pull it off. She does, though, and the result is mesmerizing and also possibly more romantic than Pride and Prejudice. The audiobook narrator, Emma Fielding, takes you through the rhythms of the servants’ days, the endless chores and exhaustion they face, with a kind of resigned, wistful voice that feels true. You will find yourself completely drawn in, lulled into the quiet intensity of the characters’ fervent but necessarily muted emotions. This particular story would be perfect listening material for a day on your own. Try it as you stroll down a city street or a country lane, or even while sitting peacefully at the beach, starting out at the sea.

Far Far Away by Tom MacNeal

A fairy tale for big kids and grown ups,  MacNeal’s audiobook has all of the creepy appeal and suspense of the original Far-Far-Away-Tom-McNealGrimm’s tales. Set in a small town called Never Better, teenager Jeremy can hear voices of the dead. With a tough home life and a reputation as an outsider in the town, Jeremy’s only solace is in the company he keeps with the ghostly voice of Jacob Grimm–one half of the famous brothers who collected fairy tales. Jacob tries to protect Jeremy from a vague evil he is aware of between the world of the living and the dead, but his influence can only go so far. Jeremy befriends a local girl named Ginger, which in turn sets off a strange and twisted turn of events involving a mysterious local baker. This book works well as an audiobook narrated by the remarkably talented W. Morgan Shepard. Shepard expertly performs a wide variety of voices, from the wistful Jacob Grimm, to the teenage wonder of Jeremy and Ginger, and finally, the strange and alluring accent of the swedish baker whose constant greeting of “Halloa! Is it not a great day to be alive?” will stay with you for months after you finish reading this haunting and utterly engrossing story.

Beauty Queens and The Diviners by Libba Bray

beautyqueensLibba Bray’s two novels work so perfectly as audiobooks that you might wonder if they were written for that purpose. Beauty Queens tells the story of a group of teenage contestants in a beauty pageant whose plane crashes on an island. All of the various personas they have carefully constructed come tumbling down as they struggle to survive. If it’s not obvious already from the plot, let me make myself very clear: This story is hilarious. Over the top, out of control, laugh-out-loud hysterical. Libba Bray herself narrates this one and she does a different distinct accent for each and every character.  Enjoy, but fair warning: prepare to laugh out loud, no matter where you are — a crowded train, a sidewalk, etc.

The Diviners, another lengthy novel by Libba Bray, is a very different story, set in 1920s New York City. Featuring a wide cast of diverse characters, The Diviners mines the mystery of an evil presence wreaking havoc in the city and committing occult-divinersinspired murders. January LaVoy, a stage and film actress, narrates this thrilling tale with such awe-inspiring range, that you will find it hard to believe that only one person is doing the many voices. The combination of a great story and an outstanding narrator make this audiobook can’t miss. The Diviners is just as scary as Beauty Queens in hilarious. I dare you to listen to this by yourself while driving or walking alone at night and NOT find yourself completely spooked.

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Five novels to tide you over while you wait for the new season of the X-Files

You may have heard the very exciting news that the cult classic tv show The X-Files will be returning with 6 brand new episodes featuring Agents Mulder and Scully together again! Fans of the show, myself included, are very excited for this new season to debut. Of course, the writing process for these new shows hasn’t even begun, much less the filming. This means that we have a very long time to wait.

Fear not! I have for you six recommended novels to read while you impatiently pass the time before the return of the X-Files. All of these books deal with unusual circumstances, most of them paranormal in origin, which could potentially be investigated by Mulder and Scully. I picked them for their breathless readability and for the unusual and highly unique subject matter. I also took the liberty of imagining the episode scenario for each book. Enjoy!

11/22/ 63 by Stephen King

11-22-63The master of paranormal himself, Mr. King spun quite the yarn with this wordy but readable tale of time travel. Although it goes on just a little bit long, as almost all King novels do, 11/22/63 follows the story of Jake Epping, a high school English teacher who learns about a time portal in the back of his friend’s diner and finds that he can travel back to 1958. No matter how long he, or anyone, stays in this time period, when they return to their normal time, only two minutes will have elapsed. His friend, having discovered the portal years before, had endeavored to stay in 1958 and prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Illness forced him to return before the deed was done. He asks Jake to take up his cause, and provides him with a fake ID and cash from the era to get started. Jake agrees and so begins a long, complicated account of his attempts to track down Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and hopefully prevent the assassination. Of course, messing with time does not come without consequences, some good, some bad, and there are many obstacles along the way. This book was easy and fun to read and will please long time readers of King as well as newcomers to his distinctive style.

X Files connection: Strong. Subjects: Time Travel, the existence of pure evil in the world (King’s favorite topic!)

Episode scenario: Mulder and Scully show up in the small town of Lisbon Falls, Maine, where the story takes place and are greeted with suspicion. They immediately show up at the diner and start searching for the portal….

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Scorpio racesThis gorgeous novel takes place on the fictional island of Thisby, where every year, the townspeople gather to watch the Scorpio races, during which water horses emerge from the ocean and gallop the beach. Brave men attempt to capture and ride these horses as part of the deadly race; many end up dead or maimed in the attempt. Stiefvater’s water horses are based on the Celtic water horse legend, the eich uisce, terrifying but beautiful animals that would lure onlookers to them with their beauty and then ride them into the sea to their watery graves.

I get the shivers just thinking about this book. Reading it was such an immersive experience. The descriptions of the water horses are both spine tingling and exhilarating. Stiefvater’s evocation of Thisby with its salty landscape and weather beaten people feels authentic, and you will completely accept the idea of this island that is both tortured by and economically dependent on the Scorpio Races. Strangely enough, this story will also appeal to horse lovers, as much of the narrative deals with the care and maintenance of horses – both kinds.

X Files connection: strong! Subject: mythical creatures.

Episode scenario: Mulder and Scully arrive on the windswept Thisby Island, trench coats flapping in the sea breeze. They walk the beach waiting for the water horses to appear—but none do. Mulder spends his time at a pub in town, while Scully cultivates a shy relationship with a local horse owner who fills her in on the history and significance of the races. (In my dream version of this episode, it would be directed by Peter Jackson).

Everyday by David Levithan

every-day-book-coverImagine you woke up every day of your life in a different body. You had a hazy sense of self and you could remember where’d you been the previous day, but you had no idea what the current day held. Each new day meant figuring out where you were and who you had to be until you went to sleep that night and started all over again the next day in a different body. This intriguing scenario is the premise for David Levithan’s excellent book Everyday. Our protagonist has no name and no gender but he/she has feelings and memories. Completely unaware of where he/she came from or what he/she is, the protagonist moves through her life making do, until she meets Rhiannon, the girlfriend of a sullen teenager loser whose body he/she inhabits one day. Although he/she is aware of how her host body/soul usually treats Rhiannon, our protagonist finds him/herself drawn to Rhiannon in a way he/she has never been drawn to another person before. After spending one day with her, the protagonist finds a way to keep visiting and contacting Rhiannon, long after he/she has left the body of Rhiannon’s loser boyfriend. It’s a risky move, one that draws some unwelcome attention, leading the protagonist to realize that he/she may not be the only one of his/her kind.

This was one of the most unique reading experiences I have ever had. My helpful husband informed me that it was just like Quantum Leap, but I have never seen Quantum Leap, so I can’t speak to that! However, the premise is so interesting and begs just enough questions to keep you reading without losing your faith in the possibilities the story presents.

X Files Connection: Strong! Subjects: mythical, possibly alien being that jumps from body to body.

Episode Scenario: I can just see Mulder and Scully trying to track down the protagonist, confronting people in coffee shops and crowded places. “I know it’s you in there!”, etc.

 

Night Film by Marissa Pessl

nightfilm_trThis story begins like so many others: A beautiful young woman is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in Manhattan. Her death is ruled a suicide, but investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. He begins probing her death and becomes enmeshed in the legacy of her father—a famous, reclusive cult filmmaker named Stanislas Cordova—who hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Cordova’s films are eerie, psychological thrillers that deeply unsettle viewers. His persona and the story of his life and his family’s life are shrouded in mystery and fear. The more McGrath investigates, the more deeply entangled he becomes until his life starts to resemble one of Cordova’s movies.

This book is quite an achievement! It is pure, creepy fun and completely unexpected. I can’t say much more without giving things away, but I will tell you that it has an unexpectedly positive ending. Despite going deep and probing the dark side of human nature, this novel won’t make you feel like jumping off a bridge when it’s over, which is a relief. You will feel like you have just completed a very strange, but worthwhile journey.

XFiles Connection: strong! Subjects: unsolved murders, cult heroes.

Episode scenario: This story would be perfect for one of those scenarios where Scully is away on business and Mulder takes on the case himself. He will fall in love with the dead girl and dedicate himself to solving her crime. Poor, lovelorn, lonely Mulder.

 

World War Z by Max Brooks

worldwarzI choose this book with a hint of trepidation. It was not my favorite book, but I feel that it fits in well with this category of recommendations. The premise is that the world has been depleted by a fast moving plague that turns people into zombies. The narrative is told through interviews with survivors in various positions. Some tell the story of the plague as it was developing, some tell how they survived in the midst of the plague and others explain how the world tried to put itself together again.

It is a mixed bag of stories. Some of the “accounts” are very exciting and horrifying, while others are boring. How would you begin to restore chaos and contain the remaining infected population after something like this happens? Who are the people who would try to profit from this event? Despite its uneven storytelling, World War Z is definitely unique and contains some very riveting and tense storytelling. Although I found some sections slow and confusing, I know many of my fellow friends and readers who loved every second of this.

X Files Connection: Strong! Subjects: Zombies, plague, government wrong doing.

Episode Scenario: Mulder and Scully survive the outbreak using their brains and practical experience dealing with monsters. The government brings them in to help craft a solution and Mulder has trouble cooperating. Scully mediates, as usual, and perhaps we will even see Agent Skinner.

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Five fantastic books by female authors you’ve probably never heard of (but should!)

The world of publishing has been notoriously overcrowded with white men since its inception. Female authors generally have to fight for recognition and respect, and if they happen to be writing about women, that fight is even harder. Publishers slap a pastel cover with a stylish drawing of shoes and that just-so cursive font and call it “chick lit”—regardless of what the story may contain. Not that all “chick-lit” is unworthy, it’s just a specific genre of book marketed to a specific audience. And too often, female writers are pushed into this narrow category and never given a chance to break out. It’s a frustrating problem, but one that I hope we are moving away from! The last 5 years have seen some fantastic, glowingly reviewed literature by women. In trying to compose this list of female writers, I had a really hard time narrowing it down to five. A wealth of options to choose from is a good sign, friends. I have chosen five books by five of my favorite female authors, all published within the last ten years.

All of these books have been reviewed well, but you are unlikely to see them in your local Target book section. Allow me to introduce you!

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

monsters of templetonThis entirely original and unexpected story follows a graduate student of archeology named Willie Upton who returns to her hometown of Templeton, NY. Her home life seems to be unraveling as she moves back in with her mother for the summer and learns that her previously absent and presumed dead father is actually alive and well and living in town. Willie’s mother leaves it up to her to uncover his identity. Willie spends her summer digging around in archives, piecing together her family story. While all of this happening, there may or may not be a mysterious Loch Ness –type monster living in the town lake and Willie may or may not be in the early stages of pregnancy following an ill-advised affair with her professor.

Groff’s masterful prose is the perfect concoction of funny and sad, dark and delicious. She hints at the supernatural but stays mostly focused on real life people and their various peccadillos. Her characters are lovable and complicated and so compelling. My personal literary goal is to write a book just like this. She is, by far, my favorite writing hero. By the way, Templeton, NY is actually a thinly disguised Cooperstown, NY, a detail that only enhances the experience of reading this book.

Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan

commencement imageCommencement follows the interweaving stories of four friends who first meet when they are assigned to the same dorm at Smith College. Smith, that famously feminist, liberal school in beautiful western Massachusetts, sets the scene for these four very different women whose lives twist and turn in ways they never expect. Sullivan examines the shaky feeling of embarking on “adulthood” after college and coming face to face with stark reality. Jobs, changing relationships between friends and family members, boyfriends and girlfriends: none of us are completely prepared for what the future brings. Sullivan takes us through this familiar landscape with four wonderfully drawn and fully realized women, whose life stories she narrates with admirable candor and intimacy. You will feel like you’re out to lunch with your best friend while reading this book. It’s a great vacation read and a great gift for any recent or soon to be graduates you might know.

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda

visitation streetVisitation Street takes you to the neighborhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn, NY during a hot summer. Weaving in the narratives of several very different, compelling characters, Visitation Street tells the story of two teenage girls who, bored, decide to take a raft out into the bay to see what adventures they can have. Only one of them returns, waking up confused on a scummy beach, and without a clear recollection of what happened. The aftermath of this event echoes through the close knit neighborhood of Red Hook as various characters grapple with their part in the tragedy.

Visitation Street, Ivy Pochoda’s debut novel, is a quiet wonder, brimming with possibility and menace, and yet a distant ray of hope lights the background of her characters’ bleak lives. This story will appeal to mystery fans, particularly anyone who enjoys Denis Lehane’s gritty urban novels. Lehane hand picked this novel for his new publishing company.

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

ten thousand saintsSet mostly in New York City’s Lower East Side in the late 1980s, Ten Thousand Saints follows Jude, a teen sent to live with his pot-dealing father after his best friend Teddy dies of an overdose. Raised by adoptive, hippie parents in Vermont, Jude is immediately taken in by the various extreme scenes taking shape in New York City around this time. First falling in with a group of straight edge Hare Krishnas, Jude eventually submerges himself in straight edge, hard core culture, allowing his devotion to abstinence of every kind to become an addiction itself.

Eleanor Henderson’s novel is so tender hearted and sympathetic toward the deeply troubled lost souls at its center, that you will be a better, more empathetic person having read it. I’ve always thought that the great good of books and reading comes from the empathy we learn as a result of walking in someone else’s shoes. This book, more than any other I can think of, does just that. You will love the characters in this book so much; their sorrow and their joy will be yours as well. If this isn’t the mark of a great writer, I don’t know what is! Ann Patchett remarked that this book was the “best thing I’ve read in a long time.” Also, they’re making a movie! Here’s hoping they do it justice.

Swamplandia by Karen Russell

swamplandiaAva Bigtree lives with her family at a gator wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. Daily shows find Ava’s mother performing death defying stunts with alligators in front of a crowd. After Ava’s mother gets sick, the family begins to unravel. Ava’s father withdraws completely, leaving Ava and her siblings on their own. Her brother leaves to work at a rival theme park called “The World of Darkness” based on the Bible, while her spacey older sister falls under the spell of a mysterious character who may or may not be a ghost.   When her sister disappears, 13-year old Ava sets out to find her on a journey through the mystical, gorgeous and terrifying swamp.

Ahh, Swamlpandia. Where to begin? Karen Russell and Lauren Groff are, in many ways, soul mates. Both women sway back and forth between the sometimes absurd, modern world we know and the hazy supernatural places we don’t know. Russell, however, is definitely darker. Swamplandia is such an incredibly inventive and disturbing experience. At the same time, however, and this is what I love about her (and Groff), the characters at the center of the novel will grab you by the heart and make you care about what happens to them—no matter how outlandish their adventures might be.