Thursday, September 15, 2016

Novel Sequels

Sequels. It seems like everything is part of a series these days. Harry Potter was seven books, eight movies, and a play. A Song of Ice and Fire fans are patiently waiting for books six and seven as HBO’s Game of Thrones surpasses the novels this year. Sue Grafton, who started her Kinsey Millhone mysteries in 1982 with “A” is for Alibi, is nearing the end of the alphabet with X (expect Y in 2017 and Z in 2019). Frankly, keeping up with these never-ending series can be exhausting.

What happened to good old fashioned novels, I find myself asking…myself? Well, actually, most of the books that come into the library are standalone stories. But sometimes characters resonate and you wonder what happened to them after that final page. Occasionally authors have the same feeling and that’s when we get unexpected sequels. This is a list of continuations to books that aren’t part of lengthy series. But writing the unexpected sequel can be tricky business. Sometimes the story comes as a natural progression, enhancing the original story. Other times, it reads as a shameless cash grab, making you completely question your judgment of the first book. Authors, tread carefully.

Here are some recent sequels that you may (or may not) want to check out:

Glory over Everything by Kathleen Grissom (2016, sequel to 2010’s The Kitchen House) I read The Kitchen House with my book club groups here at the library, and that book was a very powerful read. Set in the late 1700s, a young Irish immigrant is taken in as an indentured servant, and raised by the slaves on the property. We grew with her over the course of the book until she is a married adult, seeing how harsh pre-Civil War south was. Glory Over Everything follows a character introduced in the first book, Jamie, who was born to a slave and her master. Years after the events of The Kitchen House, Jamie is living in Philadelphia, passing as white and struggling to keep his past a secret. But as you can imagine, it comes back to bite him since America in the 1830s is still not very accepting. Not your average sequel, as you could quite easily read this without the other, but a satisfying glimpse into the characters’ lives from the first novel. ~CW

After You by Jojo Moyes (2015, sequel to 2012’s Me Before You) – With the film version of Me Before You just out of theaters, I hesitate to give too much of this story away. Let’s just say that Clark struggles to readjust to life after the events of the first book. Clark’s maturity in the sequel makes for an appealing compliment to the original book. ~MT
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen (2015, sequel to 2007’s Garden Spells) Allen’s books exist mostly in the same world, so you’ll occasionally catch a glimpse of a character from Garden Spells in The Peach Keeper, but First Frost is her first proper sequel. Ten years after the events of Garden Spells, we check in with the Waverley sisters whose settled lives might be upended by the appearance of a mysterious stranger. ~MT

Hostile Takeover by Shane Kuhn (2015, sequel to 2014’s The Intern’s Handbook) The Intern’s Handbook was a breezy thriller with a fairly definitive ending, making the appearance of a sequel somewhat surprising (see review here). In Hostile Takeover, John Lago is back at it with his “special” skills. In the first book, John is dictating instructions to a new “intern” (read: assassin) about how he got to where he is. The second book finds him working closely with someone from the first book who we don’t entirely trust. Friend or foe? ~MT

Stand-Off  by Andrew Smith (2015, sequel to 2013’s Winger) I found Winger to be an unexpectedly poignant YA novel about a boy, Ryan Dean West, finding his place among his classmates at a private school. I know John really connected with it. So the sequel was a little bit of a letdown. Rugby was a large part of the first book, but didn’t play too much of a role in Stand-Off to the detriment of the story. It also seemed like Smith didn’t have as strong a handle on his characters as he did in Winger.~MT

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (2014, sequel to 2012’s The Rosie Project) Here’s an example of a bad sequel. The Rosie Project was an unexpected delight, a bestseller in Australia before being released in the US. The Rosie Effect, on the other hand, was literally one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Every character acted like they had recently received a lobotomy. The Rosie Effect makes me physically angry just thinking about it. Hard pass. ~MT (although CW 100% agrees)

The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce (2014, sequel to 2012’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (you can see how much here), so I was pleasantly surprised to see a sort-of sequel to this story. Instead of a traditional sequel, taking place after the events of the first novel, The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy takes place in the same timeline as Harold Fry, just from Queenie’s perspective. I wanted to love this book, but in revealing Queenie’s past, I felt like I lost a little bit of the magic from the previous book. (full review) Even so, if you liked the first book, the second is sort of a necessary read. 

Have you read any unexpected sequels that we've left out? Good or bad?  

~Meredith and Cailey

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Five Books Worth Reading: Epic Fantasy 2016

High fantasy or epic fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy that is set in invented or imaginary worlds. This is one of Mary's favorite genres to read, and she reads a lot of them. Check out her list of the best epic fantasy books that she has read this year! 

Promise of Fire – Amanda Bouchet  (Epic Paranormal Romance)
Griffin, a warlord searching for someone to help him hold his newly conquered kingdom, decides on and then kidnaps Cat, a powerful seer/magic user, who sees truth whenever someone lies. In a world where magic is powerful, the gods interfere in everyday life, and creatures of every shape and size can be found, not just a kingdom, but their very survival is on the line.

I loved this book. The characters were flawed, yet engaging. The secondary characters were well developed. The world building was interesting. The romance was entertaining. And, while Cat's "secret" identity is pretty blatant, the story is just so well written that it doesn't matter.
This book is my favorite of the year (so far).

Uprooted – Naomi Novik  (Adult Fairy Tale Retelling)
Agnieszka loves her valley home, but only the wizard, Dragon, can keep the corrupted, evil Wood near her home at bay. His price: one of the local women must serve him for ten years… many of whom are never seen again. Soon, the new woman will be chosen, and that choice will change both Agnieszka’s life and the safety of her beloved valley forever.

I loved Uprooted. It was such a different story. Even though it is a fairy tale retelling, as a Polish fairy tale, it is not one I had ever heard before, so the storyline was totally fresh. I have never really read anything quite like it. It was engaging, really well written, and thoroughly enjoyable. It has good characters, great world building, and good pacing.
This is one of my favorite reads of the year.

Emperor’s Arrow - Lauren D.M. Smith  (Epic Paranormal Romance)
Summary: Evony of Aureline, archer and warrior, has been sent to compete in a competition designed to find the Emperor a wife.

Mary’s Snarky Summary: Fanatically loyal Amazonian-like warrior is forced to compete in a bachelor-like competition while traitors and rebellion surrounds her (and the emperor) on all sides.
Even though this story line has been done before, this is one of the best iterations I have come across. The main characters are compelling and strong. The world building is fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed this story… and it’s a stand-alone novel, which is rare in epic fantasy. (only available on e-book)

The Novice – by Taran Matharu  (Teen)
Fletcher, an orphan and blacksmith apprentice, finds a spell book which shows him how to summon a demon, which is not as horrible as you might think... It also makes him a valuable commodity in the war against the orcs.
While this story did remind me a little of World of Warcraft, the characters and constant action pulled the story together, into a very enjoyable read.

Grave Mercy – Robin LaFevers  (Teen)
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from an arranged marriage to the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain where she will be trained as an assassin - and to serve Death Himself. But, how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon targets whom she is not sure deserve it?
The novel is driven by mystery, romance and subtle skullduggery. The characters are well developed and grow throughout the story. This is a story/series well worth reading!

~Mary P.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Like a Prayer: a Review of My Best Friend's Exorcism

Did you ever huddle up with a group of friends watching The Exorcist in the middle of the night because you knew your parents wouldn’t let you see it otherwise? Yeah, I did too. Do you remember staying up way too late eating junk food and singing pop songs into your hairbrush? If you put those things together, you get an approximate feel for Grady Hendrix’s new book, My Best Friend’s Exorcism. It’s an odd, yet enjoyable mix of teenage nostalgia and body horror.

It’s 1988 and best friends Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang are sophomores at the prestigious Albemarle Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. After a night of skinny dipping gone awry, Gretchen starts acting wrong. At first, it’s small things, things her parents and classmates don’t even notice. She curses; she talks back to her mom. Soon she gets worse and Abby becomes concerned for her best friend’s health and safety. Abby has to find a way to help Gretchen before she can destroy herself and everyone around her.

Hendrix has created a vivid trip down memory lane; you can all but smell the United Colors of Benetton and Aqua Net wafting off the pages. He ends up developing an accurate, yet not exactly subtle, metaphor between adolescence and demonic possession. It’s done so heavily, that about halfway through the book; I thought it could’ve gone either way. (Spoiler – it’s totally a demon).

My favorite part was a school assembly where the students gathered to watch The Lemon Brothers Faith and Fitness Show, which basically boils down to four muscle-bound brothers punching cinder blocks and talking about the power of Christ’s love. It wasn’t until reading that scene did I remember sitting through almost the same exact show in middle school (I think they ripped phone books). I was delighted to learn that not only did I NOT imagine such a presentation, but that similar events are pervasive enough to be included in a book like this.

My main complaint was a non-starting plot thread involving a dilapidated shack, Bell telephone wires, and the body of a missing girl. I thought it had a lot of potential (evil phone company!) and seemed like it was going to play into the conclusion of the story, but it got dropped without ever being mentioned again.

But it’s the strength of the friendship between Abby and Gretchen that really carries the narrative. Even when Gretchen is at her worst, lowest point, Abby still wants to be there for her best friend. Everyone else writes Gretchen off as acting like a psycho, but Abby knows there’s something more going on. I wanted so badly for Abby to be able to save her friend because you could really feel how much they cared for each other. And that’s what friendship is, right? When the chips are down, you stand by one another whether you’re facing homeroom or hellspawn.

Looking for something a little more frightening? Try Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye.

Want some more 80s horror nostalgia? Check out Stranger Things on Netflix. Minus the scares? Read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

What type of reader are you?

Presumably, if you are following this blog, you love books. We all love books. But everyone loves and reads books in their own way. I thought it would be fun to attempt to put names to some of the different types of readers out there.

#1. The Serial Series Reader
This person loves a good series. They may even go so far as to reject stand-alone novels all together. They love to get lost in a world built up through as many books as the author is kind enough to write. The characters become their friends and they just don’t want to let go.

#2. The True Bibliophile
This type of reader loves all books and everything that has to do with books. They can read any genre and will finish EVERY book they start. Not only do they read books but they read about books, make book crafts, they may even wear articles of clothing with books on them.

#3. The Book Deserter 
This is the reader that loves to start new books but can’t quite seem to finish them. It may be because they are a picky reader or they may just simply grow bored with the plot or characters and move on to the next book on their list.

#4. The Adult YA Reader
These readers are fans of YA books and they aren’t afraid to show it. They love the engaging stories and the dynamic characters. This person will tell you (and they will be right) that YA books can be great reads, even for adults!

#5. The Genre Reader
Similar to the series reader, this person sticks to their favorite genre when choosing their next read. Whether it be mystery, romance, or science fiction, they rarely stray from their comfort zone.

#6. The Relaxed Reader
This reader will pick up their next book on a whim. They may like the cover, have heard of it in passing, or it may be a completely random choice. They will finish it if it’s enjoyable but will set it aside if it’s not. They don’t mind to cross genre barriers or try new author debuts.

I have always aspired to be a “true bibliophile”, spanning book genres and easily finishing any and all books I begin even if I am not totally enjoying it. But I have come to terms with the fact that I am just not that type of reader. I am much more of a “relaxed reader” type with a hint of “book deserter.” I will give any book a try, and I have enjoyed books in most genres, but I won’t force myself to read something I am not fully enjoying. Unfortunately, that means that I sometimes feel like I abandon more books than I finish but it also means I mostly love all the books I do finish.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. You may be a combination of these types of readers or a type all your own. So, what type of reader are you?

~Ragan S.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Librarians' Line-Up: Favorite Book to Movie

We talk a lot on here about upcoming books being turned into movies, and we tend to critique that the book is always better. While that's pretty true, there have been good movie adaptations of our beloved books, so we round some up for you today. Share your favorite in the comments below!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I really liked the Hunger Games series as it was adapted for the screen. I loved books one and two, Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and thought they did a really good job in getting the story across on screen. In fact, I actually liked the movie version(s) of the third book Mockingjay better as movies than as a book. All in all, I recommend both the book and the movies. Great job done all around.
~Mary P.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
One of the few book-to-movie adaptations I can really comment on would be Lord of the Rings, as it's one of the few instances in which I actually read the book before watching the movie. I'll be the first to admit it isn't a purist adaptation; the actual battle scene in Two Towers, for instance, consumes far more of the movie than it does the actual book. Still, I believe Jackson's passion for Tolkien's work led him to remain largely faithful to the books, thereby resulting in an adaptation that, I'm sad to say, hasn't remained in the public consciousness nearly so well as I would have liked.
~Nathan D.

I could pick any of the three films that make up Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy; but my favorite has to be the first in the series, The Fellowship of the Ring. What can I say?  I’m a lady who loves world-building, and Jackson did an amazing job bringing J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy realm of Middle-earth from page to screen. Who doesn’t want to live in The Shire or Rivendell after seeing those rolling hills lined with Hobbit holes and the majestic Elven architecture in the towering trees? Three hours might have been asking a bit much for the uninitiated, but hardcore Tolkien fans like myself left the theater drooling—all three or four times we paid to see it. (Who’s counting?)
~Ariel J.

Holes by Louis Sachar

Recently, I decided to re-read some of my favorite childhood books. The first one I picked up was Holes by Louis Sachar. This is a quirky book with a lot of action and humor. I enjoyed reading this book just as much as an adult. The movie Holes (2003) continues to be one of my favorite book to movie adaptations. It does a great job of bringing Sachar's characters to life while maintaining the humor of the book. I would recommend both the book and the movie to children and adults alike.
~Ragan S.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World by Bryan Lee O'Malley

My favorite book to movie adaptation is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World based on the Scott Pilgrim six volume graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. The movie is a love letter to geeks and gaming and has one of the most incredible casts ever assembled. You've got Michael Cera as the titular Scott Pilgrim and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the object of his desire, Ramona Flowers. That's not all, you'll also see Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, and Jason Schwartzman. Add in a great soundtrack featuring Metric and you've got the makings of one of my all time favorite films.
~Meredith T.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Someone else here is probably covering the same territory, but my favorite book to film conversion recently is last year’s Carol (based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt). This was a challenging project, because so much of the novel centered on Therese’s inner monologue, and that’s hard to capture in the medium of film. Some people who saw the movie thought it was cold, maybe because we don’t have access to Therese’s inner life, but I thought that Todd Haynes and Edward Lachman created a sparse and beautiful movie that manages to convey the same depth of emotion in a different medium.
~John F.

Above: Harrison, Below: Hopkins
Legends of the Fall by James Harrison

My favorite book to movie is Legends of the Fall by James Harrison. Legends of the Fall stars a young Brad Pitt as a Montana youth whose impulses toward rugged individualism turn to wildness. Pitt’s character fights a grizzly bear (twice), and manages to seduce a beautiful woman by breaking a horse and not looking at her. Anthony Hopkins plays Col. Ludlow, who has a stroke and devolves into a grunting, elephant-gun-wielding, buffalo-skin-wearing, Old West caveman. Oddly, Hopkins in the film is a dead ringer for author James Harrison in real life:
~Travis F.

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

As someone who reads a lot, I find it really difficult to choose a "favorite" book in any category, so this is one of a top five at least. The book Bridget Jones's Diary is written in diary form by Bridget Jones, "spinster" in her 30s trying to get by in life. She has a constant goal to improve herself, is close to her friends and family, but doesn't always make the best decisions. For one, she's a touch judgmental about people, and when she meets Mark Darcy, she judges him instantly and it takes her awhile to come around. There are parts of the book I miss in the movie and parts of the movie I enjoy that weren't in the book, but the film is true to the Pride and Prejudice inspired novel, and it's the best of Fielding's books, in my opinion.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Reading Outside My Comfort Zone - Westerns

I took a copy of The Burning Hills by Louis L’Amour off the shelf one night because I needed to pull a quote from any western novel. It didn’t matter which one, I just needed something as an example. I was in the process of reshelving the book when I caught a whiff of its pages, and let me tell you, my response was visceral and immediate. It smelled like a distinguished old professor’s study. A man settles into a leather wing chair in the dimly lit room. He gazes upon his overstuffed bookshelves adorned with bronze busts, while filling a pipe with tobacco he had tucked in the pocket of his elbow patched sweater. 

But back to the actual book, The Burning Hills is the story of Trace Jordan; a man who has found himself in a bad way. After returning to his camp to discover his horses stolen and his partner dead, Jordan seeks revenge. He finds and confronts the man he deemed responsible, but a shootout leaves him wounded. With no other options, Jordan escapes into the Arizona desert, soon losing his way.

Luckily, he’s found by a beautiful sheep herder, Maria Cristina, who nurses him back to health even though it puts her and her brothers in danger. The men who want Jordan dead are on his trail and are determined to finish the job, no matter who gets in their way. Jordan must gather all his strength to ride to safety, but he starts to have doubts about leaving, now that he has grown to love Maria Cristina.

So, how was The Burning Hills? A little racist, a little sexist, but not outside what I was anticipating. I get why westerns are popular. There’s definitely an allure to the sepia tinted nostalgia of the American Frontier. But don’t try to convince me these are anything but manly harlequins. Just because the book has a plain leather-bound cover instead of a heaving bosom doesn’t make them a purveyor of high-minded literature. If you’ve never read a western, I would recommend it. I’m not familiar enough with L’Amour’s bibliography to safely say this is one of his better stories (the man wrote 105 separate works before he died) but it’s a quick read and he’s one of the grandfathers of the genre, so if you are curious about westerns, it’s not a bad place to start.

What else do I recommend? I think the only other western I’ve read was Charles Portis’ True Grit. The book was good, but the Coen brothers’ 2010 film adaptation was excellent and a rare case where the movie is actually better than the book.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Books to Movies: July-Dec 2016

We're back with a new list of books being adapted into film. You have plenty of time to read the book before these are released. Check them out!

Nerve by Jeanne Ryan (in theaters today! July 27)
Teenage Vee takes part in a high-stakes game of virtual dare called "Nerve," where she's dared to do different things that are virtually broadcast to thousands of other players. For each dare completed, she gets a prize (good ones). So Vee is competing in the game, but it soon turns dark for her. The movie stars Emma Roberts and Dave Franco.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (in theaters Sept. 2)
Set in the 1920s in Australia, Tom is a lighthouse keeper, living a solitary life on the island with his lighthouse. He meets and marries young Isabel, but the two have trouble conceiving. One day a boat washes on shore the tiny island, with a baby inside. The two make a decision that changes all of their lives. This atmospheric book is beautifully written and contemplates some very serious moral issues. I'd definitely read it before seeing the movie, which promises to be very well done, starring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender.

The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers (in theaters Sept. 23)
Based on a true story, Phiona lives in a slum in Katwe, where she and her family live in very poor conditions. One day, she follows her brother and meets a missionary named Robert Katende, who grew up in the slums as well. Katende is trying to empower the children of this village by teaching them chess, which Phiona immediately excels at. Within five years, Phiona has rose to fame as a chess champion. This heartwarming story will be in theaters soon, starring Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (in theaters Sept. 30)
Jacob discovers the crumbling remains of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children on a remote island off the coast of Wales. He goes through the rooms, discovering one strange thing after the other, including pictures of the "peculiar children" that are quite eerie. Some of these children may have been more than just "peculiar," and actually been dangerous, and maybe still might be there. This novel is creepy in a good way, including all sorts of awesomely unexplained pictures. It's definitely worth reading before the film. The film stars Asa Butterfield (who you may remember as Ender, from Ender's Game a few years back) and Samuel L. Jackson.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (in theaters Oct. 7)
If you haven't read this bestselling thriller yet, now's the time. Every day, Rachel takes the same train, at the same time. She stares out the same window, at the same houses, every single day. In particular, she pays attention to one house, with one family. One day, she sees something shocking. It's just an instant, but she feels compelled to tell someone. But can she really be a reliable witness in an instant? This book will keep you on the edge of your seat, with lots of surprise twists and turns. The film stars Emily Blunt and Laura Prepon.