Wednesday, August 31, 2011

NPR Shares Audience Top Picks for SF/F

As fantasy novels get more and more attention these days through film and TV adaptations (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones to name a few), people seem more inclined to admit liking fantasy novels in general.

The stigma of "geekiness" or "dorkdom" that seems attached to the genre is fading and the 28-year-old football fan who secretly enjoys Robert Jordan doesn't flush so red when sharing that morsel of information.

I'm loving this new-found confidence, and the fact that NPR released the top 100 audience picks for their favorite science fiction and fantasy novels just buttresses the notion that things are changing. It's not to say that lists like this don't already exist from popular websites/magazines/newspapers/etc, but it's nice to see it front and center like this. (The New York Times actually wrote an interesting piece recently on the topic too.)

That said, let's see what NPR found out:

More than 5,000 of you nominated. More than 60,000 of you voted. And now the results are in. The winners of NPR's Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy survey are an intriguing mix of classic and contemporary titles. Over on NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See, you can find one fan's thoughts on how the list shaped up, get our experts' take, and have the chance to share your own.

A quick word about what's here, and what's not: Our panel of experts reviewed hundreds of the most popular nominations and tossed out those that didn't fit the survey's criteria (after — we assure you — much passionate, thoughtful, gleefully nerdy discussion). You'll notice there are no young adult or horror books on this list, but sit tight, dear reader, we're saving those genres for summers yet to come.

So, at last, here are your favorite science-fiction and fantasy novels. (And a printable version, to take with you to the bookstore.)

1. The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien's seminal three-volume epic chronicles the War of the Ring, in which Frodo the hobbit and his companions set out to destroy the evil Ring of Power and restore peace to Middle-earth. The beloved trilogy still casts a long shadow, having established some of the most familiar and enduring tropes in fantasy literature.

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

In the first, hilarious volume of Adams' Hitchhiker's series, reluctant galactic traveler Arthur Dent gets swept up in some literally Earth-shattering events involving aliens, sperm whales, a depressed robot, mice who are more than they seem, and some really, really bad poetry.

3. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Young Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, bred to be a genius, is drafted to Battle School where he trains to lead the century-long fight against the alien Buggers.
4. The Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert

Follows the adventures of Paul Atreides, the son of a betrayed duke given up for dead on a treacherous desert planet and adopted by its fierce, nomadic people, who help him unravel his most unexpected destiny.

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series by George R.R. Martin

As the Seven Kingdoms face a generation-long winter, the royal Stark family confronts the poisonous plots of the rival Lannisters, the emergence of the Neverborn demons, the arrival of barbarian hordes, and other threats.


10. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

On the plane home to attend the funerals of his wife and best friend, Shadow, an ex-con, encounters an enigmatic stranger who seems to know a lot about him. When Shadow accepts the stranger's job offer, he finds himself plunged into a perilous game with the highest of stakes: the soul of America itself.

11. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

This tale of a handsome farm boy who, aided by a drunken swordsman and a gentle giant, rescues a beautiful princess named Buttercup comes with a slyly humorous, metafictional edge: Goldman claims to have merely abridged an earlier text by one "S. Morgenstern" (actually a pseudonym) and peppers his text with clever commentary.

12. The Wheel Of Time Series by Robert Jordan

At 13 volumes and counting, this sweeping — some would say sprawling – richly imagined epic chronicles the struggle between servants of the Dark One and those of the champion of light known as the Dragon Reborn.

13. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Farm animals overthrow their human owners and set up their own deeply (and familiarly) flawed government. Orwell's mordant satire of totalitarianism is still a mainstay of ninth-grade reading lists.

14. Neuromancer by William Gibson

Gibson's groundbreaking debut novel follows Case, a burned-out computer whiz, who is asked to steal a security code that is locked in the most heavily guarded databank in the solar system. A seminal work in the genre that would come to be known as cyberpunk.


16. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov changed our perception of robots forever when he formulated the laws governing their behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future — a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.

Check out the complete list HERE

Other authors on the list? Robert A. Heinlein, Anne McCaffery, Patrick Rothfuss, Ray Bradbury, Neal Stephenson, Roger Zelazny, and Brandon Sanderson.

What is YOUR favorite science fiction/fantasy novel??

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Review: "Odd Thomas" by Dean Koontz

I'd been meaning to read Odd Thomas for ages. But as you can imagine, my to-be-read pile is overflowing. So last week, when a new friend suggested that I read it sooner rather than later, I picked up my new Nook Color (Yes, that's right. I've read TWO eBooks so far!) and finally just bought the damn thing.

And man, am I glad I did...

Dean Koontz's fantastical and mysterious novel about a young man who can see dead people astounded me. The story kept me on the edge of my seat, yearning for more with every sentence to the point where I sometimes found myself skipping ahead--my eyes and my brain just couldn't move fast enough. Every time I caught myself though, I went back and read it again--I didn't want to miss a morsel.

Now, before you get caught up on that whole "I see dead people" thing, let me clarify: the character of Odd Thomas doesn't see these spirits a la "The Sixth Sense"--it's more he sees them and helps them move on, sometimes by solving their unfinished business for them. He's been given what some people may consider a gift, what others may consider a curse, and he's resolved himself to be selfless, to put others first, even when they're gone from the mortal realm. He's tortured and tragic and hilarious and wise. Honestly, he was not the character I was expecting. But he spoke to something deep inside me, bringing tears to my eyes even while making me snort in laughter on the subway.

I haven't so whole-heartedly appreciated a character in who knows how long. I even quoted him this week to a friend and bookmarked some lines to share with you all here. It's amazing how powerful and relatable Koontz was able to make his main character in such a commercial genre:
"Recognizing the structure of your psychology doesn't mean that you can easily rebuild it. The Chamber of Unreasonable Guilt is part of my mental architecture, and I doubt that I will ever be able to renovate that particular room in this strange castle that is me."

"Life [...] is not about how fast you run or even with what degree of grace. It's about perseverance, about staying on your feet and slogging forward no matter what."
"We are not strangers to ourselves; we only try to be."

Profound for a twenty-year-old miracle man, huh?

But don't worry, the whole book isn't teeming with such wise phrasings. However, it is full of intensity, adrenaline, and heart.

The Last Word: Brilliant plotting and pacing, smooth and consistent voice, and characters you fall in love with, Koontz hit every nail on the head with this one.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Decemberists Meet David Foster Wallace

Some of you may not know this about me, but I love The Decemberists. I've seen them in concert twice (not a lot, I know, but for me that's a big deal!) and have a guitar pick of theirs that I caught at one of said concerts. I saw them as recently as this past June.

So when I saw them pop up on GalleyCat today, naturally I was intrigued. Their lyrics in themselves are poetic and powerful--maybe they're doing a book? I thought at first. But no. No, they have put out a video of one of their hits...and based it off Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

GalleyCat tells us more:

The new video for “Calamity Song” by The Decemberists reenacts a scene from David Foster Wallace‘s masterpiece, Infinite Jest. We’ve embedded the video above–what do you think?

In the video, a group of teenagers play Wallace’s imaginary Eschaton game, a combination of tennis match and computer simulation for nuclear war. Follow this link if you want to play the game in real life. Singer and novelist Colin Meloy told NPR he had just finished reading Infinite Jest and wanted the video to be a tribute to the late novelist.

Check it out: “I had this funny idea that a good video for the song would be a re-creation of the Enfield Tennis Academy’s round of Eschaton — basically, a global thermonuclear crisis re-created on a tennis court — that’s played about a third of the way into the book. Thankfully, after having a good many people balk at the idea, I found a kindred spirit in Michael Schur, a man with an even greater enthusiasm for Wallace’s work than my own. With much adoration and respect to this seminal, genius book, this is what we’ve come up with. I can only hope DFW would be proud.”

See the original post HERE

I'm not going to lie: I've never read David Foster Wallace. Thus I don't have much of an opinion on this, but I thought it was cool anyway. ;)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Faeries, Faeries, Everywhere

When I was a kid, I didn't really read fantasy novels--no princesses trapped in towers guarded by dragons, no elves, no faeries (unless watching "Fern Gully" about 50 times counts), no trolls. I was too wrapped up in "reality": Beverly Cleary, The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, and the like.

But now? Now I'm making up for lost time. All I want to read is faeries.

I'm not sure what it is about the mystical beauties that I find so compelling lately--maybe I'm just craving an escape from the everyday. But whatever it is, over the past few years, I've been flocking to the most enchanting and engaging faerie-filled YA series:

Holly Black's "A Modern Faerie Tale" series

This trilogy is one of my favorites. Holly Black's writing hooked me from the first page of book one. She meshes the modern and faerie worlds with such ease and believability. Definitely a fun and exciting ride you don't want to miss.

Melissa Marr's "Wicked Lovely" series

I've only read the first one of these books so far, but the rest are now in my queue! Marr takes the concept of solstices and uses it in an imaginative and engrossing way. Her villians are as "likeable" as her heroes, a task not easily fulfilled but one that makes for a strong, fascinating read full of emotional contradiction.

Jenna Black's "Faeriewalker" series

I powered through this trilogy. Black kept me simultaneously deeply engrossed and hovering on the edge of my seat. Her writing is smooth and pacing is quick--I would not be surprised if you read the entire series in a week (or less).

Laini Taylor's "Faeries of Dreamdark"

This series is lushly written and sophisticated YA fantasy with a literary bent. Leisurely but enjoyable reads overflowing with detail, beauty, and power. Taylor hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as the other authors on this list but certainly not due to lack of talent!

What are some of YOUR favorite faerie novels?

Clearly, I need more recommendations... ;)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Can't Buy Love? Sure We Can!

I've always been of the mind that people who don't love to read, just haven't found the right book yet. It's been a mission of mine throughout my life to help people find the kind of book they enjoy, the kind of fiction or nonfiction that they can relate to and engage with. (Speaking of, check out this GalleyCat article on the Facebook group "I hate reading.")

But sometimes it's not about the right book. Sometimes it's about having a book at all.

Not every family can afford books. Not every child has a library card. Without that access, a love of reading can never grow.

Better World Books recognizes this all too well and is doing something about it (has been for years, it seems!)...and you can too.

The Huffington Post tells us more:

You've heard of TOMS Shoes, right? Every pair you buy, TOMS donates a pair to a kid in need. TOMS was built around the notion that a "one-for-one" business model could actually turn a profit and change the world -- and it has.

But we're not talking shoes here, we're talking books.

You've now got a good reason to order those summer romance novels for your Labor Day trip to the beach: while you're in a lounge chair sifting through Emily Giffin's latest page-turner, a child somewhere also has a textbook or storybook in his or her hands, thanks to your purchase.

Better World Books announced today that it, too, is going one-for-one, or "book-for-book," in a surprising (and welcome) move that will bolster its "triple bottom line" concept of prioritizing people, planet, and profits to maximize positive social and environmental impact while generating sales.

This is by no means a copycat strategy. These folks have been donating books for almost a decade. What started in 2002 as a way to fight graduation blues -- and make a little money -- ended up winning founders Xavier Helgesen and Kreese Fuchs a "Best Social Venture" prize in a Notre Dame University Business Plan competition ... and became a blueprint for the way Better World Books operates to this day.

How does it work? In addition to selling new titles, Better World Books supports book drives and collects used books and textbooks through a network of over 1,800 college campuses and partnerships with over 2,000 libraries nationwide. So far, the company has converted more than 53 million books into $10 million in funding for literacy and education -- and, in the process, has diverted more than 60 million books from landfills. Donated books go to a variety of literacy partners, including Feed the Children, Books for Africa, Room to Read, Worldfund, Invisible Children, and the National Center for Family Literacy.

Although Better World's sales help children in many countries around the world, their donations also make an impact at home in the U.S.

Emily Kirkpatrick, Vice President of the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), says her organization first partnered with Better World in 2005 to help the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- and since has teamed to provide grants to programs such as "Every Child Ready to Read" in Dallas, Texas, which engages 5,600 families per year in literacy workshops.

That org received a $10,000 Libraries and Families Award from NCFL and Better World.

"The award refueled our mission and purpose, and is enabling us to provide important literacy information to more families in a new and exciting way," said Jasmine Africawala, Program Coordinator of the Every Child Ready to Read.

Between drop boxes, free shipping, funding for literacy, and more, Better World Books may just be on to something ... even in this digital age. Helgesen described his company to the New York Times in 2007 as "1,000 sidewalk sales rolled into one," yet today, Better World has evolved into a sustainable mechanism that benefits everyone in its supply chain -- from the donor to recipient to the communities it serves through partner programs, and, of course, you.

Because who doesn't like to feel good about buying a book?

See the original post HERE

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Laughter Best Medicine in Romance Community

When I heard that romance author Tessa Dare made a book trailer using nothing but her daughters' toys (, it was seemingly hilarious.

The video, no doubt, is entertaining, clever, and hysterical. I was laughing so hard I almost fell out of my chair. Watch it, you'll see.

But there was part of this funny fact that is not so funny. Dare didn't make this video just for the heck of it. Banks won it in an auction through an initiative called Operation Auction.

Operation Auction took place in late March of this year after the romance community received devastating news that one of their own had lost her husband in a brutal act of violence. Fatin Soufan is an active member of the romance community--a blogger, reviewer, administrator, and more for the site RR@H Novel Thoughts and Book Talk. She's done so much to support authors over the years and Operation Auction was the community's way to give back.

What a wonderful, heartbreaking, kind, and optimistic way to rally the troops. After all, they do say that laughter is the best medicine.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Interstellar Pig" and Other Randomness

Today, New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire got me thinking about all the semi-obscure books I read in middle school.

How, you ask? With a simple tweet, of course!

@seananmcguire: I still dream about INTERSTELLAR PIG.

That was all it took.

Because *I* still dream about Interstellar Pig too....I also occasionally ponder My Brother Sam is Dead and Homecoming.

I'm not sure why those ones in particular all stuck with me so much. They weren't books I adored. They weren't books I wanted to read a second time. They weren't books that taught me huge life lessons. The only thing they have in common is the year I read them--seventh grade.
Maybe that year was just a pivotal one for me:

It was the first year I collaborated on a writing project (ahhh, Marcus Neiman, most ridic character ever!).

It was the first year someone told me that I should consider being an editor when I grew up.

It was the first year I had a boyfriend.

It was the first year my mom dated my science teacher (*gasp!*).

But mostly, it's the first year I realized how obsessed I was with reading. I had always been voracious, but seventh grade? Seventh grade was insanity.

What random books have stuck with YOU since your childhood?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Author L.A. Banks Dies at 51

As some of you may have heard, sad news has swept the publishing industry today: Beloved bestselling author L.A. Banks (also known as Leslie Esdaile Banks) passed away this morning at age51.

Banks had been in many readers thoughts this summer as she fought to beat out the adrenal cancer that was tragically caught too late. Now, our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this difficult time.

GalleyCat tells us more:

Leslie Esdaile wrote many novels under different pseudonyms, but published her popular Vampire Huntress Legend series and the Crimson Moon series under the name of L.A. Banks. The writer will be honored at a memorial event on August 6th.

Her fan club president posted this brief message on Facebook; add your thoughts and tributes there: “It is with profound sadness that I announce that Leslie Esdaile Banks, our Queen literary passed this morning. I will share details of funeral arrangements as soon as they become available.”

Her family and friends have established a fund to help her family cope with medical bills. Follow this link to donate.

See the original post HERE

Banks was a versatile author whose works touched the hearts of people all over the world. Writing in a variety of genres--romance, crime fiction, non-fiction, and more--her memory is sure to be remembered.


The Nonsensical Nature of Banned Books

This isn't the first time I've posted about the concept of banned books, and I'm sure it won't be the last. In an industry where writers are constantly pushing boundaries, sparking controversy, and being, well, true to life, there are always some people who aren't going to like it.

And last week, in the town of Republic, Missouri, the school board approved the banning of Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five from its high school library.

My reaction to this choice? In a word: shocking.

I've read Twenty Boy Summer and while it certainly tackles the hormonal challenges of teens in a candid way, it most certainly is not a book deserving of censorship. There are five books I can think of off the top of my head that would be more understandably banned. (No, I'm not going to list them here.) And Slaughterhouse-Five, which I'm chagrined to say I have not read despite my BA in English, is a classic novel taught in most high schools or colleges (but clearly not mine!). It's a controversial and at times gruesome book from what I know, but again, not so much so that this ruling rings reasonable.

I'm not one for banning books in the first place, but if you're going to do it, at least do it sensibly.

It seems I'm not the only one with an opinion on this matter though, according to GalleyCat. Ockler herself whipped up a blog post in response last week, admitting to her book's risque material but chastising the choice to ban it from the library.

This passage sums up her take nicely, though the entire post is definitely worth a read:

Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more. I get that my book isn’t appropriate for all teens, and that some parents are opposed to the content. That’s fine. Read it and decide for your own family. I wish more parents would do that — get involved in their kids’ reading and discuss the issues the books portray. But don’t make that decision for everyone else’s family by limiting a book’s availability and burying the issue under guise of a “curriculum discussion.”

But you all know my views on banning books — any books. What I really want to say today is this (close your eyes, Dr. Scroggins, as you’ll likely find this content alarming):

Not every teen who has sex or experiments with drinking feels remorseful about it. Not every teen who has sex gets pregnant, gets someone pregnant, or contracts an STD. Not every teen who has sex does so while in a serious relationship. Not every teen who has sex outside of a relationship feels guilty, shameful, or regretful later on. And you can ban my books from every damn district in the country — I’m still not going to write to send messages or make teens feel guilty because they’ve made choices that some people want to pretend don’t exist.

That’s my choice. And I’ll never be ashamed of my choice to write about real issues.

See the original post HERE

When I read this, I gave a little cheer in my chair.

Go, Sarah.