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Book News, Nov. 15th

Let’s keep this short and sweet, bookworms, because there is a lot of Book News to get to. Happy Saturday, and here we go:

  • Ding dong the feud is dead? After being locked in an e-book pricing dispute since April, Hachette Books and Amazon have reportedly reached a multi-year settlement. The agreement, due to start in early 2015, will allow Hachette to oversee and manage pricing for its e-books, something Hachette’s CEO calls a “victory for writers.”
  • Today marks the last day in the second round of voting for Goodreads’ annual Goodreads Choice Awards. The third and final stage of voting will open on Monday, with winners announced on December 2nd. If you’re a Goodreads user, vote now!
  • Last month, Harry Potter fans got a taste (however bad) of Dolores Umbridge. But JK Rowling surprised fans by publishing six additional stories as well, sharing details about Professor Trelawney, thestrals and the Minister of Magic.
  • Speaking of Harry Potter, the good folks over at the Sesame Street Studio have continued their traditional of parodying literature, with “Furry Potter and the Goblet of Cookies.” Cookie Monster, naturally, plays the title role. For the record, Harry probably would have preferred cookies to dragons, underwater rescue missions and that maze.
  • In adaptation news, three book series are coming to television:
  • Movie clips and trailers for everyone! Hang on, because there are plenty:
    • A first peek at Natalie Dormer as Cressida in Mockingjay Part 1
    • Katniss and Gale fight over Peeta in another Mockingjay clip; in other news, TEAM PEETA!
    • A teaser trailer for the upcoming Insurgent movie was released this week. Nice haircut, Tris.
    • One ring, lots of gold, and five armies: the final Hobbit movie will be released at Christmastime and there’s a whole lotta fightin’ going on.

As always, happy reading.

Pushing Past the Comfort Zone

MisledMy time here in Ireland so far has been filled with new experiences and, if nothing else, the whole process of moving to a new country by myself has been an excellent exercise in learning to break out of my comfort zone and do things I may not have done previously. (And for an introvert like myself, this is, in fact, a VERY BIG DEAL.)

I’ve found that the same lesson applies to reading as well. I am a creature of habit in many ways, so when left to my own devices, I tend to stick to the authors and genres I like most. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach to reading (I know what I like and I don’t feel the need to apologize for that), but it can make you a stagnant reader or an unimaginative one. So I do sometimes need to work at finding new things to read that I might not normally pick. Back in the US, my book group was an excellent and trusted source for books outside of my usual oeuvre. I’ve also looked to see who and what my favorite authors are reading.

It was on the recommendation of a favorite author (Eloisa James, for those inquiring minds) that led me to Kathryn Kelly and her Death Dwellers series. It’s a contemporary romance series set in the world of a West Coast motorcycle club, and trust me, this series is not for the faint of heart. James describes it was “50 Shades of Gray meets Sons of Anarchy” and that’s a fairly apt description. There’s a great deal of violence (particularly involving and against women), explicit love scenes, several issues that are / can be triggers for certain readers, and so many curse words, even a sailor would blush. On paper, it’s everything I wouldn’t want to read – but I did.

Why? Partly because I trusted James’ recommendation and partly because it can be good to expand our reading horizons and push past our comfort zone. There are a lot of things about Kelly’s series that I thought I wouldn’t like, and certainly, there are parts of her books that are / can be uncomfortable. But trying these novels for myself gave me the opportunity to discover those things honestly (i.e., not just relying on word of mouth) – and, perhaps more importantly, reading these books also gave me the chance to see the good in Kelly’s stories. 

The Death Dwellers series is not going to be for every reader, but even with my initial reservations, I was surprised by how much I liked these books, and these characters. Dismissing a book or an author out of hand means you might miss out on something good or unexpected, and I firmly believe in the power of reading to help us experience things we might not otherwise experience. Giving something a chance, even if you still don’t like it in the end, is far more honest than not trying at all.

Kelly’s heroes and heroines are far from perfect (very far, in some cases), but that’s also what makes it so easy to root for them. As a reader, I appreciated their imperfections, their mistakes, their faults – and all their efforts to try harder, do better, be happier. And isn’t that what we all try to do anyway? Sure, Kelly’s characters may solve their problems in ways I’d never dream of, but they are trying, and that’s admirable to me. Since the series also revolves around the club, there are also themes of loyalty and the families we make for ourselves. Fun fact about me: I’m nuts for loyal people. It’s a trait I value highly in myself and others, so of course I loved seeing it in Kelly’s characters. Again, it may not be the same kind of loyalty I envision or practice, but these characters are deeply devoted to each other, and that’s admirable too.

I may not read every book ever recommended to me, and I certainly don’t expect to like every book I read. But every now and then, I stumble across a book (or, in this case, a series) that surprises me by being so very different from what I might normally read and like. I’ve learned to appreciate these surprises, because it means I’m still evolving as a reader (and maybe even as a writer), and because moving beyond my reading comfort zone can bring unexpected rewards.

[Note: Kathryn Kelly’s Death Dwellers series is intended for mature audiences only, and does indeed contain elements that might be trigger issues for certain readers. Please consider visiting Kelly’s website or reading a handful of reviews before you jump into the whole series.]

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]


Book News, Nov. 1st

Happy November, bookworms. How time flies when you’re incredibly busy with school! Thankfully, it’s a good kind of busy. Sadly, it’s the kind of busy that doesn’t leave me for much free reading time. I have so many books I want to read, but I’m often so consumed with school work that I gravitate towards “easy” books or books I don’t have to think too hard about. Then, of course, I feel bad about calling such books “easy” because that’s not fair to the author, who clearly put time into them. It’s a whole reading cycle, really. At any rate, Happy (belated) Halloween and here’s the book news:

  • I’m a few weeks late with this, but the 2014 National Book Award finalists have been announced. The annual NBA dinner will be held later this month, where the winners will be revealed. I’m beyond thrilled to see Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming on the shortlist for Young People’s Literature. It’s a collection of stories told through verse and it’s simply gorgeous. A must-read (especially for young readers). Another notable finalist is Roz Chast – her graphic memoir (Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?) is the first cartoon / graphic work on the Adult Nonfiction list. I’m personally rooting for her, both because I like what I’ve read and seen of her memoir and because I like women who break down barriers. Go Roz!
  • We need diverse books. And the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign needs your help. The team of authors behind the campaign to promote and encourage greater diversity within literature has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for upcoming projects. Among the proposed projects are bringing the campaign (and, of course, the diverse books) to disadvantaged schools as well as establishing the Walter Dean Myers Award and Grant program, in memory of Myers, who died earlier this year.
  • Halloween is all about villains and for Harry Potter, Voldemort wasn’t the only bad guy around. Ministry goon and teacher-from-hell Dolores Umbridge certainly gave Harry plenty to oppose, and she remains a character we all love to hate. So naturally, J.K. Rowling is writing a new Umbridge story for Pottermore. Posted yesterday for the creepiest day of the year, Rowling’s 1,700-word story provides new details about ol’ Dolores as well as first-person “reflections.” (Between you and me, given her opinions on Muggles and Muggle-borns, I don’t think I want her reflecting on anything!) Given Rowling’s tendency to write short pieces for secondary characters, who would you like to see her tackle next?
  • As a general rule, never believe anything on the Internet without backup confirmation. That also applies to Game of Thrones rumors, which can sometimes fly faster than a speeding bullet. With filming for the fifth season already underway, GoT fans can’t help but speculate about what might happen (even if they could just pick up the books, but I digress). Thankfully, Entertainment Weekly has posted a helpful list of debunked season 5 rumors, deftly separating fact from fiction. (Case in point: Lady Stoneheart’s not showing up. Let it go, people!) Number 8 is especially illuminating, because of course fans want more episodes, but given the sheer amount of work already invested in the 10 episodes we do get? The writers and crew do need to see their families sometimes!
  • Two trailers in, and I already dislike President Coin. Which is as it should be. Another trailer for the upcoming Mockingjay Part 1 movie made its way around the Internets in the last few weeks. This trailer features Katniss returning to the now-destroyed District 12, with Coin and Heavensbee providing the voice-over, pondering Katniss’ state of mind (which, going by the book, I thought was pretty darn good considering all she had been through). As a bonus, the creepy white roses are back! Mockingjay will arrive in movie theaters later this month. (And – hey look – the final trailer, too!)
  • In the US, Masterpiece Theater fans are finally getting to see the BBC adaptation of P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley. In honor of the latest revision, sequel and/or general adaptation of Jane Austen’s most beloved novel, Entertainment Weekly has ranked 13 Pride and Prejudice versions, from the truly great (the 1995 mini series with THE definitive Darcy, Colin Firth) to the truly terrible (that statue of Colin-as-Darcy in Hyde Park was a little weird). I do object to EW’s low ranking of the BBC version of Death Comes to Pemberley – it may not stand up to some of the others, but it’s leagues ahead of the book, which I found quite dull. What do you think?
  • And since we’re on the subject of Pride and Prejudice, how about a first look at the film version of (god help us all) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Thanks to Entertainment Weekly, we can now see exactly how bad-ass the Bennet sisters really are. Meanwhile, Jane Austen is rolling over in her grave.

As always, happy reading.