Two years ago, Bernie Su and Hank Green, the brother of young adult author John Green, started a YouTube Web series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which became an overnight success. A modern day adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries ran for close to a year and 100 episodes. Lizzie’s video blogs, or vlogs, began as a project for her master’s degree in mass communications, but takes on a life of its own as Lizzie’s sisters and friends get involved. Filled with pop culture references, and social media tie-ins on Twitter and Tumblr, the series has now moved into the book world with The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet.
Lizzie’s diary fills in holes from her vlogs, giving fans insight into her complicated relationship with William Darcy, her relationships with her sisters, Lydia and Jane and her longtime friendship with Charlotte Lu. Readers follow Lizzie as she meets Darcy at the fateful Gibson wedding, to her ill-fated relationship with George Wickham, and subsequent discovery about his true character and to her internships at Collins & Collins and Pemberley Digital. Though Lizzie is a more modern character—tweeting, vlogging and getting her master’s degree—the basis of the story is one that many know well from Pride and Prejudice.
The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is sure to delight Austen fans looking for a modern take on a classic story. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, much like the vlogs, is a funny, romantic story filled with wonderful friends and family who help Lizzie overcome her prejudices and grow as a character.
Orange Is the New Black is back! The second season of the popular series starring Taylor Schilling, Jason Biggs and Laura Prepon was released a few weeks ago exclusively on Netflix. The first season’s dramatic ending left fans on the edge of their seats, and the second season brings us right back to the drama at the fictional Litchfield Correctional Facility.
The show is based on Piper Kerman’s bestselling 2010 memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison. When Kerman was sentenced to 15 months in a minimum security federal prison for a crime that she committed 10 years earlier, she entered a world unlike anything she had ever known. Kerman’s memoir takes readers through her entire sentence as she learns to navigate this world with its unique set of rules and social norms. The book is about more than just Kerman’s experiences, though. The reader gets an up-close view of the American correctional system, and we are introduced to her fellow inmates, whose lives and circumstances are very different from her own. Kerman’s memoir is heartbreaking, uproariously funny and sometimes shocking.
Reading is a popular way for the Litchfield inmates to pass the time. A lot of scenes take place in the prison library, and the characters are frequently spotted reading or holding books. The books in the background have taken on a life of their own, becoming a popular topic for fan discussions and blogs. Entertainment Weekly’s Stephan Lee breaks down what the characters are reading in the new season episode by episode. (Contains spoilers.) Popular novels like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Ian McEwan’s Atonement are featured alongside classics like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. If you want to read along with the ladies of Litchfield, this list will help you get started.
Sometimes, what you cannot see is the most terrifying of all. For five years, the world has been plagued by…something; something that, if seen, causes a person to lose their mind and inflict unspeakable violence upon themselves and those immediately around them. Josh Malerman’s debut novel Bird Box brings horror to a new level. Devoid of blood, guts and things that go bump in the night, Malerman’s tale never reveals the monster. Is it even really a monster? Is it a physical being at all? Or is it the mind of man taken to the extreme? Perhaps the most terrifying of all is the lack of answers and how, at any moment, chaos might erupt.
Malorie and her two young children live in darkness in a boarded up home. They only go outside for water from the well and, when they do, they are always blindfolded. The children, known only as Boy and Girl, have learned since birth how to function without their sight. They wear their blindfolds indoors and practice honing their other senses. Malorie spends hours making noises throughout the house and quizzing Boy and Girl, because she knows that when the time comes, this alone will be their only chance for survival.
Malerman shifts between scenes set in the present to those in the not too distant past. We learn how Malorie came to be in the house with the children, and what happened to the group of survivors who welcomed her in. Bird Box is a terrifying story with mystery around every corner and behind every sound.
Malerman is the lead singer for the band The High Strung, best known for performing the theme song to the Showtime series Shameless.
In The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi, the reader is reacquainted with the enigmatic investigator Hermes Diaktoros in the fourth novel in the Seven Deadly Sins mystery series. Throughout the four novels, Hermes has remained very much a mystery. The reader knows he doesn't work for the police, but instead for a “higher authority.” He has an unstoppable need to see that justice is served, but not always in the legal sense of the word. He also has an uncanny timing that allows him to show up just when a murder is about to be committed. In the latest installment, Hermes arrives by boat to the island or Kalkos where he takes a particular interest in the painting of a Madonna that is rumored to have miraculous powers. The arrival of the Madonna also spawned a tradition of icon painters on the island, and it is rumored that when the elder painter dies, he can pass on the talent to his son by the touch of his hand. Hermes is not convinced that divine intervention is involved, especially when he begins to question the authenticity of the famous painting itself. Soon, the island’s resident icon painter is dead by an apparent poisoning, and Hermes realizes that sins run deep on the isle of Kalkos.
Zouroudi writes mysteries in the classic tradition, and readers who enjoy an interesting detective and an involved mystery will find much to love here. The author spends careful time on the suspects, delving into their hidden desires and motives. She pays careful attention to the unraveling of the mystery to pique the interest of any curious reader. She writes with a thoughtful style, and there is often a philosophical or ethical undercurrent to the mystery that becomes heartbreaking in the final solution. Readers may want to begin with The Messenger of Athens, the first in the series. Fans of Agatha Christie or Josephine Tey will be thrilled to find a contemporary author that captures their genius. Also available on e-book.
What do catchers and umpires really talk about during a ballgame? Longtime Major League catcher Jason Kendall reveals the secrets of that mystery in Throwback: A Big-League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played. Co-authored by Kansas City Star sportswriter Lee Judge, this is not a personal memoir with a few details about what happens on the field, but instead it is chockfull of insights that any casual or ardent baseball fan will relish.
Kendall spent more than half of his decade-plus career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was known as an unusually speedy catcher with an unconventional batting stance. This resulted in him being the fifth most hit-by-pitch player in Major League history, and he divulges the methods used to reach base no matter what the cost. But for the bulk of the book, the self-described badass talks about the relationships a catcher has with the rest of his team and opponents when on the field. Kendall starts with the pitcher and discusses in great detail how statistics, while valuable, often take a back seat to keen observation. After several seasons in the big leagues, he could identify when a pitcher needed to hang it up, and when batters were simply phoning it in and when they were on fire. Most intriguing of all are the discussions between catcher and pitcher and the ever-evolving, incredibly exhaustive language of signs between the two critical players.
Written conversationally, but containing considerable detail, Throwback is a rare look into how contemporary baseball is won and lost. While other big leaguers are mentioned, this is all about the game and not about the personalities. And those catcher-umpire conversations? Kendall discloses how it is an all-game affair of compromise, conniving and convincing to make sure there would be a win for his team at the end of nine innings.
Koji Miyamoto’s 13th birthday is quickly tarnished by the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a half-Japanese American during World War II, Koji’s life dramatically changes on that fateful day. Gaijin: American Prisoner of War is a graphic novel by Matt Faulkner which describes this ugly period in American history in heartbreaking detail.
Koji’s day begins innocently enough as he listens to the Lone Ranger on the radio while helping his mother with the dishes. When the attack is announced, he and his mother have to look up Pearl Harbor in the atlas. Koji immediately wonders if his Japanese father could have been flying one of the attack planes. His father had returned to Japan the summer before to take care of a sick family member. After a night of bad dreams, Koji heads to school only to discover he is persona non grata everywhere — at school, on the streetcar and on the street. As the government increases restriction on Japanese Americans, Koji’s innocence is lost forever when he is sent to a “relocation camp.” Outside of the camp he is ostracized for being half-Japanese, inside he is tormented for being half-white.
Faulkner’s novel is a powerful piece of historical fiction told graphically. Koji’s journey to adulthood under terrible conditions is beautifully detailed in color as he deals with discrimination, tough choices and growing up. Faulkner also neatly teaches the reader about a dark piece of American history, when over 110,000 Americans were made prisoners of war in their own country.
For more information on the subject, Faulkner has created a website - www.gaijinamericanprisonerofwar.com.
Note to self: When writing a groundbreaking book about relationships, make sure your own house is in order. This is what therapist Grace Reinhart Sachs learns in Jean Hanff Korelitz’s new book You Should Have Known. Grace has the seemingly perfect Manhattan life with her family, ensconced in the apartment from her childhood: her husband is a popular pediatric oncologist, she has a successful practice and their preteen son is at an exclusive private school. She has a newly published book, also titled You Should Have Known, about how many of the women she has counseled over the years possess the internal knowledge and discernment to make good decisions and head off bad choices before they engage in an unhealthy relationship. Just before the book’s much-anticipated release date, a seemingly unconnected murder of a parent at her son’s school leads to her marriage’s unraveling. With the discovery of her husband’s secrets and deceptions, Grace’s own life begins to very publicly implode. Escaping to the family’s remote lake house, she finds healing and rebuilding away from the public eye, and begins to see the true picture of the life she thought she knew.
Although a murder mystery factors into the plot, this character-driven story is one of personal discovery and growth at a time when one thinks their life and fate have been decided. Grace’s husband Jonathan has a quiet creepiness that becomes louder as we learn more about his disingenuous nature, and readers will relate to Grace as she repairs the damage Jonathan had underhandedly wrought in her life. Quietly suspenseful and slower revealing than Gone Girl or The Silent Wife, but equally as compelling, readers will discover a satisfying story that ends with the characters looking towards an unknown, yet more hopeful, future.
Often, the second entry in a trilogy — film or book — is the low point. It's the halfway point between the excitement, plot and world-building of the first book and the resolution, justice-meting out, comeuppance-slinging grand finale. That is not the case in The Crimson Campaign, the second book in Brian McClellan’s grand flintlock fantasy series, The Powder Mage.
The action in this sequel starts several months after the end of the first book, Promise of Blood. Tamas, McClellan’s analog for Napoleon, is facing a massive invasion on his country’s southern flank, but he has devised a counterattack that might turn the tide of the war. Tomas’s son, Taniel Two-shot, is just coming out of a coma after shooting the returning god Kresimir through the eye. Adamat, one of the few magical protagonists, is still looking for Lord Vetas, the man who holds Adamat’s wife and son hostage after unsuccessfully blackmailing him.
These three narratives soon explode and set off in separate directions, although with definite consequences for the others. Tamas and part of his army are cut off and presumed dead deep in enemy territory. Without supplies or reinforcements and constantly hounded by enemy forces, they must make a long, difficult march home. Taniel reacts to his father’s apparent death by traveling to the front to stop the enemy invasion and to face a General Staff that has already given up on the war. He will also face an angry, out-of-control god that he failed to kill. At home in the capital, Adamat finds himself outgunned, outmanned and facing powerful forces; meanwhile, he tries to unravel a conspiracy that may leave the capital city defenseless to political intrigue and foreign invasion.
McClellan turns the heat up in this second outing, raising the stakes even higher for the book’s protagonists. He has broadened his world by geographically separating the point of view characters. The pacing is frenetic, and the setting is derivative of the crisis period that faced France post-revolution. Yet, while there are many historic similarities, McClellan has gone in new exciting directions by creating a unique world much like a musician using familiar chords in a different progression. While some plot points are resolved and a tantalizing conclusion is in sight, McClellan has pulled off a bit of magic, making the reader hope the last book of this trilogy won’t be the last we see of this world or his characters.
It has happened to most of us at some point. You’re reading a book on a plane or on the beach. Suddenly, there is a heartbreaking plot twist or a beloved character dies. You try to fight it, but it’s a lost cause. You’re crying in public, and it’s not pretty. These sad stories highlight the deep emotional power that books have over us.
• Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is one of the first books that made many of us cry. This novel about the friendship between a boy and his two hunting dogs is a modern classic.
• Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is an unforgettable story about a girl named Liesel living in Nazi Germany. The novel was recently adapted into a movie, but this is a book that you simply must read.
• Me Before You by Jojo Moyes follows Louisa Clark, a young woman who takes on a job as a caretaker for Will Traynor, who is a quadriplegic. The two of them quickly grow close, but Will’s plans for his assisted suicide loom ahead of them in this tragic, romantic tale.
• Ian McEwan’s Atonement is an elegant exploration of guilt and forgiveness. During the summer of 1935, 13-year-old Briony accuses the family maid’s son Robbie of sexually assaulting her cousin. The consequences of her testimony haunt her for the rest of her life.
• Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is a beloved childhood favorite for many readers. Despite their differences, Jess and Leslie become inseparable friends. When tragedy strikes, Jess must use the lessons that their friendship taught him to heal.
• Set in a post-apocalyptic America, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the story of a father and son who walk through the desolation, depending only on each other while they try to make their way to the coast.
• Gail Caldwell’s Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship will make you want to call your best friend. In this poignant memoir, Caldwell chronicles her friendship with her best friend Caroline Knapp from their first meeting through Knapp’s death of lung cancer at age 42.
Ten-year-old Jack Foster has never been the center of his parents’ universe. Spending much of the year at boarding school, Jack’s infrequent trips home to smog-choked Victorian London are fraught with awkwardness, boredom and his own guilty anticipation of returning to school.
So when on one visit home Jack spies Mr. Havelock, his mother’s mysterious new spiritualist, opening a door where no earthly door should be, he jumps at the chance for adventure and follows...
...into a magical world that so closely mimics our own, the line between what is mechanical, what is magical and what is alive has long been blurred. Here the air is thick with smoke, and many residents are obliged to wear goggles and nostril grills to shield them from the noxious atmosphere. Whole, flesh-and-blood children are rare and prized by Londinium’s ruler: the Lady. Now, the Lady requires a new, perfect son and she’s set her sights on Jack.
As keen as he was for adventure, Jack isn’t so sure he’s ready to be adopted, and the Lady’s previous son, Mr. Havelock (aka Sir Lorcan), isn’t happy about being replaced. This new world is not without friends though, including Beth, a wind-up doll with an attitude, and Dr. Snailwater, the scientist who created her. If Jack wants to escape back to his own world, he’ll need the help of his new friends and that of the Gearwing, a powerful, mythical creature that no one has seen in years.
Emma Trevayne paints an atmospheric and eerily entrancing landscape in Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, her middle-grade steampunk debut. Boasting excellent world building, characteristic of the steampunk genre, gorgeous cover art and an independent protagonist with amusing supporting characters, Flights is best suited for younger middle-grade readers.
For all the narrative merit displayed in much of the story, Flights does suffer from some underdeveloped and ultimately unresolved plot devices. Among these weaker elements are the obscure motivations of the Lady in continually craving perfect, eternal sons in the first place, as well as the underdeveloped mythos of the Gearwing itself. As a standalone novel these flaws are prominent, however, in the larger context of a series (should Ms. Trevayne continue to expand Jack’s horizons) these shortcomings might be camouflaged.