A Story a Day for Short Story Month

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I’m in need of some untainted* inspiration… maybe you are, too?

(*Untainted by industry noise and book worries and life stresses. Just something simple, and sweet, and able to get the blood pumping and the fingers moving on the keys.)

One thing that does this for me is reading a good short story. I love short stories, as I’ve confessed before here.

So I was delighted to discover that apparently May is National Short Story Month, and one of my favorite authors, Sara Zarr, is taking on a beautiful project: reading a short story a day for a month, and tweeting about it. If I can get it together, I am going to join her, starting tomorrow. You can, too—just comment on her post, or let her know on Twitter at @sarazarr. There’s also a project in which you can write a short story every day, but that, my friends, is way too ambitious for me, when I’m working on a reinvention of a novel.

My intention is this: To read a short story every day* for the month of May (*Um, every day I am able to. I’m bad at every-day promises, so I can promise there will be at least a few days when I break it.) And I’ll talk about the stories on Twitter, to share what I’ve read.

I’ve decided to use the month to reread some of my most favorite short stories—many of which I have collected in a series of binders I call my “anthologies.” I used to photocopy stories I loved and admired from collections, magazines, literary journals, and anywhere I could find them and collect them in these personal anthologies. I stopped doing this years ago, but I still have about eight or nine volumes of my anthologies that I can dip into this month, not to mention some new books I have on my shelves and links I’ve collected online and a Best American or two I haven’t finished reading yet. So there will be some brand-new-to-me short stories to read, too.

If you have a favorite short story you’d like to suggest, please leave it in the comments below or tell me on Twitter at @novaren.

Tomorrow is May 1, the start of this fun project. I already know what tomorrow’s story will be… but I’ll wait to tell you until the morning. It’s a long-time favorite, and one I haven’t read in more than ten years. I can’t wait to rediscover it.


Keeping track of the stories I read here:

May 1, Story 1: “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter. Favorite moment: a mother’s intuition. Also this moment: “I caught sight of myself in the mirror. And I saw myself, suddenly, as he saw me, my pale face, the way the muscles in my neck stuck out like thin wire. I saw how much that cruel necklace became me. And, for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.”

May 2, Story 2: “Lucho” by Patricia Engel. Favorite moment: the idea of love. “…I didn’t even know I loved Lucho till that second. But I did. Because so what if he was a little smelly and weird. He came looking for me back when I was invisible. And when he was with me, he acted like I was the only thing he could see.”

May 3, Story 3: “The Pelican Bar” by Karen Joy Fowler. Favorite moment: the idea of humanity, and, well, basically everything. This story is new to me, and I loved it. “There were tourists everywhere on the beach, swimming, lying in the sun with daiquiris and ice-cream sandwiches and salted oranges. She wanted to tell them that, not four miles away, children were being starved and terrified. She couldn’t remember enough about people to know if they’d care.”

May 4, Story 4: “Fear Itself” by Katie Coyle. Favorite moment: all the waxy weirdness. And the truth in this statement: “‘…He needs to know what he’s dealing with—otherwise he’ll do whatever he wants to her. That’s how older guys are,’ Ruthie explains with a sigh. ‘They underestimate you. They assume you’ve got no one looking out for you. They assume you’re nothing.'”

May 5, Story 5: “Miss Lora” by Junot Díaz. Favorite moment: voice and all voice. “Sometimes after you leave her apartment you walk out to the landfill where you and your brother played as children and sit on the swings. This is also the spot where Mr. del Orbe threatened to shoot your brother in the nuts. Go ahead, Rafa said, and then my brother here will shoot you in the pussy. Behind you in the distance hums New York City. The world, you tell yourself, will never end.”

May 6—I messed up and didn’t read a story today. Does it help to tell you I had a book event that day and was distracted? 

May 7, Story 7: “The Fisher Queen” by Alyssa Wong. Favorite moment: a whole new view of mermaids. “Mermaids, like my father’s favorite storytale version of my mother, are fish. They aren’t people. They are stupid like fish, they eat your garbage like fish, they sell on the open market like fish. Keep your kids out of the water, keep your trash locked up, and if they come close to land, scream a lot and bang pots together until they startle away. They’re pretty basic.”

May 8, Story 8: “The Saint of the Sidewalks” by Kat Howard. Favorite moment: the concept and every word. “That was how saints were made. Some piece of strangeness happened, and it hooked itself in the heart of someone who saw it, and called it a miracle. Once they decided that’s what it was, people tried to reenact the miracle’s circumstances. They ritualized its pieces. They named the person at the center of it, gave them an epithet, something memorable.”

May 9, Story 9: “Kindness” by Yiyun Li. Favorite moment: The loneliness and isolation of this narrator. The strength of memory… This story is just extraordinary. You can find it in the O.Henry anthology from 2012. “I never showed up in her dreams, I am certain, as people we keep in our memories rarely have a place for us in theirs. You may say that we too evict people from our hearts while we continue living in theirs, and that may very well be true for some people, but I wonder if I am an anomaly in that respect. I have never forgotten a person who has come into my life, and perhaps it is for that reason I cannot have much of a life myself.”

May 10, Story 10: “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell. Favorite moment: the mood, so melancholy and peculiar in all the best ways. “Most people mistake me for a small, kindly Italian grandfather, a nonno. I have an old nonno‘s coloring, the dark walnut stain peculiar to southern Italians, a tan that won’t fade until I die (which I never will). I wear a neat periwinkle shirt, a canvas sunhat, black suspenders that sag at my chest. My loafers are battered but always polished. The few visitors to the lemon grove who notice me smile blankly into my raisin face and catch the whiff of some sort of tragedy; they whisper that I am a widower, or an old man who has survived his children. They never guess that I am a vampire.”

Bonus weekend story, which catches me up to Day 6: “The Map” by William Ritter, a Jackaby (Doctor Who meets Sherlock in YA form) short story that is coming out online this summer, before book #2. I don’t think I should quote from it since it’s not available yet, but expect all the sense of classic mystery and excitement you’ll remember from the first book in this little teasing taste… (Full disclosure: We share a publisher, Algonquin Young Readers!)

May 11, Story 11: “White Angel” by Michael Cunningham. Favorite moment: This story was a time machine—I remember reading it many years ago, and a distinct and emotional memory of reading it followed me over the years. Returning to it made me cry, at its end, again. Helps that I actually did live during my formative years in Woodstock, New York—it’s not what they hoped it was. “‘You and I are going to fly, man,’ Carlton whispers, close to my ear. He opens the window. Snow blows in, sparking on the carpet. ‘Fly,’ he says, and we do. For a moment we strain up and out, the black night wind blowing in our faces—we raise ourselves up off the cocoa-colored deep-pile wool-and-polyester carpet by a sliver of an inch. Sweet glory. The secret of flight is this—you have to do it immediately, before your body realizes it is defying the laws. I swear it to this day.”

May 12, Story 12: “The Girl on the Plane” by Mary Gaitskill. Favorite moment: This story is profoundly disturbing. Upsetting. Gutting. Complicated. It was very difficult to read the first time, years ago. I think I  had to close the book before finishing and come back to it later. This time, I knew what was coming. It hurt to read. I needed to read it. I think everyone should read this story. “A stewardess with a small pink face asked if they’d like anything to drink, and he ordered two little bottles of Jack Daniel’s. Patty’s shadow had a compressed can of orange juice and an unsavory packet of nuts; their silent companion by the window had vodka straight. He thought of asking her if she was married, but he bet the answer was no, and he didn’t want to make her admit her loneliness. Of course, not every single person was lonely, but he guessed that she was. She seemed in need of comfort and care, like a stray animal that gets fed by various kindly people but never held.”

May 13, Story 13: “It’s Just a Jump to the Left” by Libba Bray. Favorite moment: Memories of Rocky Horror, but beyond that the sex and longing and rebellion and confusion, the heart. “She couldn’t say why it felt so very necessary to be angry with her mother all the time, but it did. She would walk into a room where her mother sat reading or grading papers and be consumed with a sudden need to wound that would be followed moments later by a terrible guilt and an equally ferocious longing to be forgiven and comforted.”

May 14, Story 14: “Ramadan” by Mona Simpson. I am not actually sure if this is a short story (it later became a part of a novel?) or an essay (it seemed at first to be published in Granta and then Salon.com as an essay?) or that amalgam of both that turns into semi-autobiographical fiction (?), which I find so fascinating, the way fact and imagination combine to form a whole new truth that distorts the memory forever after. Favorite moments: Truth is, this story upset me far more on second read than it did years ago. I am thinking about why that could be. “His skin stretched and spread taut wings from his neck to his top chest bones. I remembered that he was young, probably younger than twenty. I wanted to hear his name. I didn’t want it to be Atassi. He could have been. My father might have come back. Then I remembered my father telling me around the old kitchen table, ‘If I went back, I’d be running the country. I was the John F. Kennedy of Egypt.’ Well, he wasn’t running the country. I read the newspapers. I knew those people’s names. He said so little to us that I saved every sentence. I could lift one up like a bracelet or strand of pearls from a box.”

May 15, Story 15: “Call My Name” by Aimee Bender. Favorite moment: the sadness and entitlement to happiness that never comes. I don’t have to “like” this character to feel and appreciate her sadness. “The men are pleased when I come on the subway because I am the type who usually drives her own car. I am not your average subway girl, wearing black pants and reading a novel the whole time so you can’t even get eye contact. Me, I look at them and smile at them and they love it. I bet they talk about me at the dinner table—I give boring people something to discuss over corn.”

May 16, Story 16: “So You’re Just What, Gone?” by Justin Taylor. Favorite moment: when I realized this was going where I thought it was… the perv was a perv. “The Mark thing will make so much less sense out loud than it did when she did it, or even than it does now as she goes over it in her head. That’s the most unfair part. Everyone will have their own version of ‘What were you thinking?’ and ‘Why did you do that?’ Like her life is some book she needs to write a report about, identifying key themes and meaning, when, really, texting Mark was like peeking in the doorway of a bar or the teachers’ lounge—someplace you could get in trouble for going into but were curious to glimpse the inside of, just to be able to say that you knew what was in there. And maybe someone had dared you to do it and maybe you had had to dare yourself.”

…a gap of space and lost days in which I get very busy, do a little traveling, have a book event and a school visit, get home, meet two deadlines, and feel guilty about all the stories I missed, so I start again…

May 22, Story 17: “Apollo” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Favorite moment: a memory that transports us back in time. This story was filled with regret. Moving, perfect. This connection over Bruce Lee movies: “I stared at Raphael with the pure thrill of unexpected pleasure. ‘I watched the film in the other house where I worked,’ he said. ‘Look at this.’ He pivoted slightly, leaped up, and kicked, his leg straight and high, his body all taut grace. I was twelve years old and had, until then, never felt that I recognized myself in another person.”

May 22, Story 18: “The Snow Queen” by Karen Brennan. Favorite moment: the sadness and the disconnect. “In those days I would have done anything to protect my son. If I were to encounter him now—in an alley, say, covered with snow—I would not be able to melt his heart.”

May 23, Story 19: “Distant View of a Minaret” by Alifa Rifaat. Favorite moment: The calm at the end and everything that says and contains. (Reading the Wikipedia page about how this author’s husband would “allow” her to write and publish, and then take that away, gives me a complicated feelings; I need to read more from this Egyptian writer.) “As often happened at this moment she heard the call to afternoon prayers filtering through the shutters of the closed window and bringing her back to reality. With a groan he let go of her thigh and immediately withdrew. He took a small towel from under the pillow, wrapped it round himself, turned his back to her and went to sleep.”

May 24, Story 20: “Use Me” by Elissa Schappell. Favorite moment: going back in time—this was a story from a book I loved as a young writer in grad school, and I haven’t read it since. I’m such a fan of this writer, even still, years and years after. This paragraph shows some of her power… “I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t fantasized about appearing in one of his books. I imagined how he would see me. I would be young, my blonde bob would be long and red with a shine like patent leather. He’d mention my breasts, which were really nothing special, comparing them to dollops of fresh white cream. My legs, elongated, would cut through space like scissors. I would be smart, but not too smart. I would be naive. Maybe he’d widen the gap in my front teeth. He would rewrite all his parts so he was obviously the one with the upper hand, and invent poetic dialogue fraught with tense and subtle metaphor. In that way I was sure he wasn’t honest. But I would be different. Like a man. I’d have him, and I would leave him. He would put me on the page, but I’d live outside it. I’d live longer than he.”

May 25, Story 21: “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado. Favorite moment: This story was incredible. Just incredible. Read it right now and you’ll see what I mean. “I once heard a story about a girl who requested something so vile from her paramour that he told her family and they had her hauled her off to a sanitarium. I don’t know what deviant pleasure she asked for, though I desperately wish I did. What magical thing could you want so badly that they take you away from the known world for wanting it?”

May 26, Story 22: “Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying” by Alice Sola Kim. Hot damn! THIS STORY. The past two days of stories rocked my world. Favorite moment: Just look at how this story begins with this gem of a first sentence… “At midnight we parked by a Staples and tried some seriously dark fucking magic.” p.s. You can find this story in the anthology Monstrous Affections.

May 27, Story 23: “What the Dead Know” by Manuel Martinez. Favorite moment: Whenever the dead come back to life, you know I am there. “But they didn’t die. They walked out of the hospitals with their families and went to dinner. They went home and coaxed their spouses and lovers to bed. They told everyone that they had died and come back, that they had been given a second chance. They tried to explain that this was different from the type of near-death experience we hear so much about, when the heart stops beating and valiant surgeons are able to start it up again. They told us that this was true resurrection, but we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand.”

May 28, Story 24: “Nobody’s Business” by Jhumpa Lahiri. Favorite moment: Returning to this story after many years (this is another one from my anthology). “Sang had been laughing at him, but now she stopped, her expression pensive. She looked up at the house, a balled-up comforter in her arms. ‘I don’t know, Charles. I don’t know how long I’ll be here.'”

…a lost weekend…

May 31, Story 25: “Light” by Lesley Nneka Arimah. Favorite moment: I was taken in by the first lines, straight off… “When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters. He did not know how quickly it would wick the dew off her, how she would be returned to him hollowed out, relieved of her better parts.”


There. I write this on June 1. The month has reached its end, and I somehow forgot to read some Alice Munro, which I shall rectify very soon. There were 31 days in May, and I only reached 25 stories, but just imagine a month full of 25 stories… it was 25 times richer than it would have been without.

Beyond the Buzz: Guest Post by Kimberly Francisco

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This week I have the last posts in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series, where I’ve asked YA & kidlit librarians as well as book bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. Read on to see which book librarian Kimberly Francisco from STACKED wants to share… 


Guest post by Kimberly Francisco

biting the sun tanith leeWhen I was a teen, I became enchanted with dystopias, likely prompted by my early love for The Giver. I sought out books in the same vein, which led me to the classics (1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Handmaid’s Tale), but there seemed to be a dearth of newer novels written for teens that featured teens.

In 2012, this complaint would be laughed at, but in 2002, I didn’t find much that adequately satisfied my hunger—until I stumbled upon Biting the Sun, a little duology by Tanith Lee.

Biting the Sun is two books in one: Don’t Bite the Sun and its sequel, Drinking Sapphire Wine. It’s set in a future world where consequences no longer really exist. In this world, if you were to die, your consciousness (or soul or life force) would be salvaged from your body and placed in a new body of your own design. For all practical purposes, death no longer exists.

I loved this concept, which seemed so new and fresh to me at the time. I loved how Lee worked with the idea of a consequence-free society, where people could change gender at will, jump from the top of the tallest building just to see what it felt like, walk around with real antennae for a few weeks, hook up with whomever they choose. The society is so technologically advanced that robots do everything for the people, so the people spend their days at leisure, dreaming up new and creative ways to kill themselves and come back in ever more ridiculous-looking bodies.

I figure at the mention of “robots” some of you made the leap to “sentient robots” and figure therein lies the conflict. Happily, that’s not the case. The conflict of the novel has much more to do with how humans—and one human in particular—find meaning in a world without consequences.

The book’s protagonist is a member of the Jang, a group of people similar to what we call teenagers, except the Jang are Jang for several decades instead of just a few years. The Jang are encouraged to act out, to be as wild and crazy as possible—sort of like how teenagers now are expected to act, but the behavior is sanctioned rather than oppressed. The protagonist—whose gender is fluid and is never named, a conceit made easier by the first-person narration—eventually grows weary of the lifestyle and decides to try and work, to find something meaningful to do that will improve the lives of others. When she (at the time) realizes that meaningful work is impossible, she decides to leave the environmentally-sealed world of Four BEE and see what it’s like to live outside.

Aside from not really knowing how to live in the “outside” world, her situation is complicated by the fact that there are those inside Four BEE who plan to do their best to stop her from leaving.

The books were actually published in the 1970s, so they aren’t as new as I thought they were when I first read them. But Lee’s writing and the concept hold up, and the world she’s created still seems fresh and new. She’s created a Jang culture that is believable, sometimes annoying, and weirdly fascinating (much like teen culture today), including a whole new set of slang. I re-read this book every couple of years and find that I continue to love it each time. Moreover, I loved that the ending was so different from the classic dystopias I had read before, all of which almost uniformly ended in despair.

Judging from the age of the reviews on Goodreads, I think Biting the Sun has seen a bit of resurgence lately, thanks to the recent dystopia craze, but I haven’t heard mention of it from anyone that I know or from people whose blogs or reviews I follow. It’s still in print as a mass market omnibus, and I think it fits in well with what’s being published today in this sub-genre (and is more unique and better-written than most of it to boot).

Technically, I believe the book was published for the adult market initially, but it’s a natural fit for teens. It features a teen protagonist, but more than that, it’s about growing up, about deciding who you want to be and in what kind of world you want to live—and then making it happen.

(I also gushed about Biting the Sun in my inaugural post at STACKED, which you can read here.)

Have you read and loved this book? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! 


stacked logoKimberly Francisco is a public librarian in Texas. While she has many duties, her favorite by far is managing the library’s collection of books and media for children and teens. At STACKED, she blogs about books and other related topics from a librarian’s perspective. You can find her on Goodreads or follow her on Twitter @KimberlyMarieF.

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Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock StarFirst Day on EarthFrost, and more
  • Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
  • YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God
  • YA librarian Abby Johnson recommends the top five books she read this year: The Berlin Boxing Club; Blizzard of Glass; Dogtag Summer; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have; and A Girl Named Faithful Plum 
  • Book blogger Kari Olson from A Good Addiction recommends books including Freefall, I Swear, Like Mandarin, and more
  • Book blogger Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden recommends UltravioletA Certain Slant of Light, and The Reapers Are the Angels
  • Book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens recommends The Lost Years of Merlin
  • Librarian and children’s literature professor Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose recommends New York City novels Kiki Strike, Better Nate Than Ever, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, The Night Tourist, Suite Scarlett, and Undertown
  • Book blogger and children’s literature MFA student Mackenzi Lee recommends Millions
  • Book columnist and reviewer Colleen Mondor recommends For Liberty
  • Book blogger Kellie at the Re-Shelf recommends Andromeda Klein, The Door in the Hedge, Dramarama, Leverage, I Do, Kill Me Softly, Secret Society Girl, and The Wicked and the Just 
  • Librarian Amber Couch recommends books that get overlooked in her library

Beyond the Buzz: Overactive Imaginations

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This week I have a couple last posts in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series, where I’m asking YA & kidlit librarians as well as book bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. Here’s a different take on this question from librarian Amber Couch… 


Guest post by Amber Couch

AmberCrouchMy name is Amber Couch, and I’m a middle school and high school librarian in rural, southwest Virginia. My students are always asking me if I’ve read all the books in the library. Not even close! But I have read a lot, and that made the task of choosing just a few books for this blog post a real challenge. As I walked around my library, I kept saying, “Oooo! I love that book. Wait, no, this one!” Even as I’ve written this post, I’ve changed my mind a few times.

One thing I noticed about all the books was that they really targeted my overactive imagination. In all of them, the author was able to write in such a way that I was transported into the world of the characters. I wish I could live there forever.

AnneofGreenSo, of course, my first book I want to share is Anne of Green Gables. Anne Shirley is the epitome of overactive imaginations, and I was sure she was my absolute bosom friend. Lucy Maud Montgomery set the bar for how I measured all future best friends, and no boy would ever be as wonderful as Gilbert Blythe. Anne and her world made such an impression on me that college papers would be written about her, my best friends had red hair, and even my cat is named after her. Anne lived life with such joy and saw the world as magical. I try to embrace that every day. When students say they want something lighthearted, maybe some adventure or comedy, this is the first book I direct them to.

PreyWhen I got to high school, I started reading a lot of Michael Crichton novels. My biology teacher read Jurassic Park aloud to us when we were learning about genetics, and I was hooked. Michael Crichton scares me! And again, that’s because of my overactive imagination. His books (hopefully) couldn’t actually happen, but they are grounded in enough scientific fact that it makes you wonder. His scariest book, and my favorite, is Prey. This is a story about little nanobots that fly around in swarms and can get under your skin and possess you. The whole time I was reading it there was a buzzing in my ears and my skin was crawling. I would see a swarm of gnats and start wondering if there were actually microscopic robots coming to attack me. It didn’t help that the story took place within a few hours of where I lived. Michael Crichton was able to make the impossible seem almost plausible, which terrified me. When students ask for horror books, I always try to steer them towards his shelf.

FinnikinRecently I read Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. This is the type of book I wish I could write—fantasy, complete with wizards, magical beasts, sword fights, and princesses never really in distress. It reminded me so much of the books I kept hidden in high school for fear I would be too much of a nerd. Books like The Belgariad by David Eddings, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. To this day I want to believe that somewhere there really is a world where magic is possible, dragons soar through the skies, and knights ride in to save the day. Finnikin is the perfect hero and Melina’s book does a wonderful job of writing action scenes that get your blood pumping and tender scenes to warm your heart. I cry every time I read the ending and fall completely in love with Finnikin. I’m so excited that she has written a sequel, and I can’t wait to start reading my library’s copy. When students want fantasy adventures, this is right where I direct them.

One thing I’ve noticed about the books that get overlooked in my library is that they generally are older. Students want the books with the shiny covers that came out yesterday. If I tell a student that a book was one of my favorites when I was their age, they will generally put it back. The Fudge books by Judy Blume were my life in 4th grade and are still incredibly relevant. But, students don’t seem to be as interested anymore. So, my advice when trying to find a good book is don’t forget about those books that are older. Just because they were written before you were born does not mean they are a boring book. There’s a reason we call them classics, and I think it’s time to start giving that title to more amazing books.

If you have an older book recommendation for me, I would love to hear it. You can find me on twitter: @acouchwriter.


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Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock StarFirst Day on EarthFrost, and more
  • Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
  • YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God
  • YA librarian Abby Johnson recommends the top five books she read this year: The Berlin Boxing Club; Blizzard of Glass; Dogtag Summer; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have; and A Girl Named Faithful Plum 
  • Book blogger Kari Olson from A Good Addiction recommends books including Freefall, I Swear, Like Mandarin, and more
  • Book blogger Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden recommends UltravioletA Certain Slant of Light, and The Reapers Are the Angels
  • Book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens recommends The Lost Years of Merlin
  • Librarian and children’s literature professor Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose recommends New York City novels Kiki Strike, Better Nate Than Ever, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, The Night Tourist, Suite Scarlett, and Undertown
  • Book blogger and children’s literature MFA student Mackenzi Lee recommends Millions
  • Book columnist and reviewer Colleen Mondor recommends For Liberty
  • Book blogger Kellie at the Re-Shelf recommends Andromeda Klein, The Door in the Hedge, Dramarama, Leverage, I Do, Kill Me Softly, Secret Society Girl, and The Wicked and the Just 

Beyond the Buzz: The Re-Shelf Take

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This week I have a couple last posts in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series, where I’m asking YA & kidlit librarians as well as book bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. Read on to see which books Kellie from the Re-Shelf wants to share… 


Guest post by Kellie

When Nova contacted me about doing a guest blog for her Beyond (the Latest) Buzz series about “overlooked” books, I instantly had concerns.

No. That’s not true. I was instantly flattered, excited, and thrilled to be asked.

But then I started thinking about what an overlooked book IS and then the concerns began. Are we talking within the last year? Within my lifetime (a time that included a barren YA wasteland [at least where I lived] and a subsequent YA boom that continues to grow and expand)? Of all time? And what does “overlooked” mean? Less than 100 reviews on GoodReads? The title is on a backlist? Didn’t win an award OR sit atop the bestsellers list?

Clearly, I have an issue with overthinking things.

Nova had this all planned out, though, and gave a huge amount of flexibility of how to view the series and the books. Basically, these are books we think should get some more attention.

That all squared away, I…still couldn’t decide what time period to talk about. So I made an executive decision! Cover them ALL. (Sort of.)

Ye Olde Books of Yore That May Have Been Forgotten Books

hedgeThe Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley. 

This may or may not be the book that spurned a passion for fairytale retellings in my life. I still haven’t found a new version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses that I like more than McKinley’s take on the matter. All four short stories included in this set are wonderful and may incur a desire to take advantage of alllllllllllll the retellings that have been pubbed lately.

idoAny book by Elizabeth Chandler.

For real. While her Kissed by an Angel series is pretty well known (and recently got a bit of a reboot with a sequel trilogy), my personal faves that I revisit year in and year out are from a series called “Love Stories.” Does anyone besides me remember these? Basically, it was a bunch of non-connected love stories written by a HUGE number of authors and sold under the series title. Chandler wrote a few but my particular favorites are I Do and At First Sight. I still get a little swoony thinking about those two. These aren’t published anymore, but if you see one in a used bookstore or your stacks—GRAB IT.

GoodReads Tells Me Less Than 500 People Have Read These Books and I Don’t Understand Why Books

andromedaAndromeda Klein by Frank Portman

Okay, if I’m honest, I find this to be a love-it or hate-it book. Personally, I adore Portman’s sophomore novel. Andromeda is a quirky, intense character and has Very Strong opinions as to how libraries run. Additionally, I learned a boatload from this book—about the occult, tarot cards, and inner-ear problems.

leverageLeverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Okay, Cohen’s debut has 562 GoodReads ratings [768 now, as of this posting! —NRS]. BUT STILL. Not enough. And while the material is intense, dark and, at times, tough to get through, the friendships in this book are unique and different and fascinating. Plus it puts an entirely different spin on sports books, bullying, and revenge.

A Decent Number of People Have Read These Books, but Not Enough for Me Because I’m Greedy Books

 

dramaDramarama by E. Lockhart

I am a theatre nerd. Like, for serious. And I’ve always felt this Lockhart novel gets lost amongst her other awesome novels. I also harbor a distinct affection for the gorg cover. That said, when reader’s advisory was a huge part of my job, I constantly used this book as a go-to read for many a-customers looking for a good read.

secretSecret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund

I have to give credit where credit is due: the only reason I know about this series of books (of which SSG is the first) is Leila at Bookshelves of Doom. Most places categorize them as adult fiction—the MC is in college—but I think they fit just as happily in the upper-YA range. I came for the secret societies, but I stayed for the interesting friendship dynamics, complex characters and storylines, and big, swoon-worthy moments.

Books from Last Year I Want Everyone to Read Books

wickedThe Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

This is a very recent read for me and I was positively swept away by it. The historical details. The juxtaposition of our two MCs. Wales. 13th Century. Ugh. Loved it. Loved. It.

softlyKill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

Since we started with fairytale retellings, let’s end with one. In KMS, people are forced to live fairytale stories out in real time. This can be as lovely as finding the Beast to your Beauty or as awful as realizing the designated Beast is also the misogynist dude from high school. I loved how Cross played this story out and how she translated actions/characters from fairy tales into present-day reality. Such a fascinating new take on retellings that had me dwelling on the concept for days.

And that’s all she wrote. From The Re-Shelf, anyway. There will be way more hidden gems revealed throughout this series and I cannot wait to see them revealed!

Thanks for having me, Nova!

Have you read and loved these books? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! 


teaKellie makes her Internet home over at The Re-Shelf, where she reviews books—usually late at night. She is an academic librarian by trade and delights in all things entertainment. After a year living in Alaska, she firmly defines herself as an “indoor girl.” Currently, she is nursing obsessions with Sleep No More; She’s So Mean by Matchbox Twenty; Pitch Perfect; and dystopian novels. One day soon she plans on running away to New York City. Her dream is to be a one-hit wonder. You can also find her on the twitter.

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Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock StarFirst Day on EarthFrost, and more
  • Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
  • YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God
  • YA librarian Abby Johnson recommends the top five books she read this year: The Berlin Boxing Club; Blizzard of Glass; Dogtag Summer; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have; and A Girl Named Faithful Plum 
  • Book blogger Kari Olson from A Good Addiction recommends books including Freefall, I Swear, Like Mandarin, and more
  • Book blogger Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden recommends UltravioletA Certain Slant of Light, and The Reapers Are the Angels
  • Book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens recommends The Lost Years of Merlin
  • Librarian and children’s literature professor Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose recommends New York City novels Kiki Strike, Better Nate Than Ever, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, The Night Tourist, Suite Scarlett, and Undertown
  • Book blogger and children’s literature MFA student Mackenzi Lee recommends Millions
  • Book columnist and reviewer Colleen Mondor recommends For Liberty

Beyond the Buzz: Guest Post by Colleen Mondor

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Today I have more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series, where I’m asking YA & kidlit librarians as well as book bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. Read on to see which book columnist and reviewer Colleen Mondor wants to share… 


Guest post by Colleen Mondor

For LibertyMy son has nurtured a borderline obsession with the Revolutionary War for several years now (he is eleven) and because of that I am constantly on the alert for unusual books that will pique his ever-growing interest. Timothy Decker’s For Liberty: The Story of the Boston Massacre covers one of the most commonly known aspects of the revolutionary period. There are few Americans who can not recount the events on the street corner in Boston that led to the deaths of five colonists, the trial of British redcoats and the infamous engraving by Paul Revere. The Boston Massacre is one of the key steps on the road to war and while a traditional subject for historians of the period, it is not one that you would expect to receive a unique treatment in a book for children. That is why Decker’s book is so outstanding and one that I just can’t recommend enough.

For Liberty is certainly a picture book—Decker’s evocative pencil drawings fill the pages from nearly corner to corner. But when you refer to a title as a “picture book,” readers immediately fall back on favorite images from the books of their childhood and relegate a title to that category—something to be read to the youngest of children. In the case of For Liberty this likely means readers of a much older age have missed something significant and that is truly a shame.

In the opening pages, Decker lays out the facts leading up to the confrontation, explaining why the colonists were angry with their government and why British soldiers had come to walk the streets of Boston. “By March 5, 1770,” he writes, “it was dangerous to be a soldier in Boston.” He names the specific soldiers involved, and how they came together in the presence of a mob on King Street. The pictures show the anger of the men and boys who were tired of the military presence in their lives and they show the growing uncertainty of the soldiers, no longer certain the civilians would go home. Finally a shot is fired, which “surprised everyone.” The British Captain Preston was struck by a club as he turned to investigate the shot and as he fell all control was lost. More shots were fired and Decker shows Crispus Attucks, the first man to die in the Revolution, struck by a bullet. Preston restored order but the damage was done and in a bare overhead shot, Decker shows the fallen men, spread over the square. The Boston Massacre was over.

massacre-drawing-pen-point
(From TimothyDecker.com. Click the image for more about the book.)

In the final pages, For Liberty becomes even more intense. The soldiers were taken into custody, lawyers were hired to prosecute them and John Adams, future president, was chosen to lead the defense. Captain Preston was found innocent, as no one could state he had ordered his troops to fire. In the trial for the soldiers, John Adams was eloquent and determined and Decker uses his words in the text, allowing history to speak far deeper than any modern writer could. He closes with a stirring profile of John Adams who “knew that liberty was precious and required wise, vigilant and reasonable citizens to protect it, even, at times, from the ignorance of one’s own countrymen.” Decker thus reveals John Adams, the president situated between two of Mt Rushmore’s great men, as one of our greatest founding fathers. He made the case before we were America, that the word of law would matter; that power would not usurp truth. He was one of our better angels and in this understated, classy and powerful book, he is given the respect he so richly deserves. For Liberty is not the Boston Massacre story you learned in school, it is far better and utterly unforgettable. Timothy Decker has really done something special with this one and readers, of any age, who come across it are luckier for the experience.

Have you read and loved this book? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! 


Colleen Mondor

Colleen Mondor is the author of The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska. She is also the longtime YA columnist for Bookslut and a reviewer for Booklist.

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Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock StarFirst Day on EarthFrost, and more
  • Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
  • YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God
  • YA librarian Abby Johnson recommends the top five books she read this year: The Berlin Boxing Club; Blizzard of Glass; Dogtag Summer; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have; and A Girl Named Faithful Plum 
  • Book blogger Kari Olson from A Good Addiction recommends books including Freefall, I Swear, Like Mandarin, and more
  • Book blogger Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden recommends UltravioletA Certain Slant of Light, and The Reapers Are the Angels
  • Book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens recommends The Lost Years of Merlin
  • Librarian and children’s literature professor Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose recommends New York City novels Kiki Strike, Better Nate Than Ever, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, The Night Tourist, Suite Scarlett, and Undertown
  • Book blogger and children’s literature MFA student Mackenzi Lee recommends Millions

Beyond the Buzz: Guest Post by Mackenzi Lee

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Today I have more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series, where I’m asking YA & kidlit librarians as well as book bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. Read on to see which title blogger and children’s literature MFA student Mackenzi Lee wants to share… 


Guest post by Mackenzi Lee

MillionsI don’t know if you can count a book that has been made into a movie1 as being “Beyond the Buzz,” but Millions has been one of my standard recommendations for years, and I’ve never encountered anyone who has met my enthusiastic adoration with a similarly vigorous “I love that book!”

So here we go. One more step in my life-long quest to make the world appreciate the genius of this quiet little novel.

Millions is the story of two brothers—worldly, real-estate-savvy Anthony and pious Damian, the narrator, who, at ten years old, strives to emulate the lives of the saints. In the wake of their mother’s death, the two boys and their dad are trying to start over—new city, new school, new house. And one September morning, in the backyard of that new house, the two boys find a bag containing one million pounds2.

With only seventeen days before Europe switches to the Euro and the money becomes worthless, the brothers can’t agree on how to spend it. Anthony wants to buy what our narrator deems “worldly goods,” while Damian wants to give the money to the poor in order to become more saint-like himself. However, the boys quickly discover that there are dangerous men looking for the lost money, and they will stop at nothing to get it back—even if it means taking out Anthony and Damian in the process.

There is no way for me to make a concise list detailing what I love about this book. I love Britishness of it. I love Damian’s voice. I love that I now have a vast and almost useless3 knowledge of the lives of saints because of this book. I love that I laugh every time I read it4. I love that I cry every time I read it. But mostly, I love that what is on the surface a heist story about two kids irresponsibly spending a lot of money, is really about how people move on in the wake of a tragedy. I love that this is not a novel about grief, and yet the theme is subtly and deftly implanted on every page of the novel.

I have read this book dozens of times—growing up, it was my family’s go-to audio book for road trips5. I have since reread it on my own, and even done papers for school on it. I am amazed by how each time I read this book, I feel like I get another layer of it. What I at first thought was simply a feel-good novel has become a feel-everything novel. This is a book for anyone who has ever lost someone they loved. For anyone who has ever wanted to be better. For anyone who has ever been bullied because they were being themselves. For anyone who has been misunderstood. For anyone who has lived without excellence and known they could be better.

But mostly, Millions is for anyone who loves that magical, transportive power of magnificent books. It is a quirky and delightful novel that I will keep reading again and again. Before I die, I will probably read it a million times6.

  1. Albeit only a mildly successfully one.
  2. As in British money, because that is where this book takes place. Not as in “one million pounds of…” and then I forgot to include the last word, leaving you in suspense.
  3. Though I did once dominate the “saints” category of play-at-home Jeopardy. So not totally useless, I guess.
  4. In what other novel do you find a fourth-grade boy who receives visitations from chain-smoking saints?
  5. Side note—the audio book is extraordinary. Highly recommended.
  6. Ahhhh!! Bad pun, bad pun! Sorry guys, last lines are hard!

Have you read and loved this book? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! 


Mackenzi Lee author photoMackenzi Lee is currently earning an MFA in writing for children and young adults at Simmons College, meaning that someday she hopes to pay back her student loans on the lucrative salary of a young adult author. She loves sweater weather, diet coke, and Shakespeare. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She blogs at mackenzilee.wordpress.com, sometimes about books, sometimes about Boston, and sometimes about Benedict Cumberbatch.

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Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock StarFirst Day on EarthFrost, and more
  • Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
  • YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God
  • YA librarian Abby Johnson recommends the top five books she read this year: The Berlin Boxing Club; Blizzard of Glass; Dogtag Summer; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have; and A Girl Named Faithful Plum 
  • Book blogger Kari Olson from A Good Addiction recommends books including Freefall, I Swear, Like Mandarin, and more
  • Book blogger Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden recommends UltravioletA Certain Slant of Light, and The Reapers Are the Angels
  • Book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens recommends The Lost Years of Merlin
  • Librarian and children’s literature professor Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose recommends New York City novels Kiki Strike, Better Nate Than Ever, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, The Night Tourist, Suite Scarlett, and Undertown

Beyond the Buzz: New York City Reading Recommendations from Laura Lutz

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Welcome to the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series, where I’m asking YA & kidlit librarians as well as book bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. Since today happens to be Valentine’s Day, and I love New York City like wow, I thought this would be the perfect day to feature this particular guest post. Read on to see which titles librarian and children’s literature professor Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose wants to share with us about the city she loves… 


Guest post by Laura Lutz

There are a number of subjects about which I’m passionate: children’s and YA books (naturally), food, wine, travel, and New York. When I examined my short list of books to talk about here, I found that, unintentionally, many of the books featured New York as a setting. So I’m going with that as the theme that ties my guest blog post together.

It got me thinking: what it is about New York that catches the imagination of so many? I once read—I believe Adam Gopnik said it—that there’s something about New York that kids and teens tap into: they get it. As a native Californian, I never thought in a million years I would ever live here but, serendipitously, I ended up moving here when I turned 30…and I’ve never looked back. Sure, there’s the hustle and bustle, the cabs, the trains, the excitement and action. But there’s also these lovely quiet places: the riverfront, the little alleys, the hidden cemeteries, the variety of parks. There’s the promise of endless possibility, of magic, of fear, of adventure. Like any large city, New York is an ideal (just like Paris, or London) and an icon.

So let’s talk about some of my favorite NYC-based stories:

Better Nate Than EverFresh on the scene—it went on sale in February—is Better Nate Than Ever (S&S, 2013) by Tim Federle. Eighth grader Nate dreams about nothing else but escaping Jankburg, Pennsylvania, and getting to NYC for the auditions of the upcoming Broadway play, E.T.: The Musical. He gets to New York, of course, where his eyes are opened to a whole new world: everything moves so fast! Everyone has an iPhone! Everyone stays up all night! Everyone has a shrink! And two men can really openly kiss in NYC?! I so hope the world will fall in love with Nate as much as I have!

Night TouristNext up is The Night Tourist (Hyperion, 2007) by Katherine Marsh. I’m not sure why this series didn’t take off as much as Percy Jackson, but it’s a shame because it’s every bit as good, if not better. Ninth grader Jack meets a mysterious girl, Euri, in Grand Central Terminal…and, with her, discovers an underworld below New York. Jack thinks this could be his chance to see his deceased mother again but, as he learns more about Euri and the underworld, he realizes that he may be there for another purpose. This is so suspenseful, so well thought-out, so action-packed. Marsh followed it up (just as well) with The Twilight Prisoner (Hyperion, 2009).

(US edition)
(US edition)
(UK edition)
(UK edition)

It’s questionable whether this is considered an overlooked book because, I daresay, most school and library folks are familiar with it. But Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (Bloomsbury, 2006) by Kirsten Miller is a particular favorite. Bad-ass teen girls who’ve been booted from Girl Scouts for being too edgy and smart? Yeah, that’s my kind of story. The third book in the series was published in January 2013. (Note on the cover: I think the British version is so much cooler than the American—what do you think?)

Suite ScarlettAnother personal favorite of mine is Suite Scarlett (Scholastic, 2008) about a smart, spunky girl, Scarlett, whose family owns the Hopewell, an art deco hotel in Manhattan. No one does realistic fiction quite like Maureen Johnson; her teenager voice is dead-on and she’s wickedly funny. The publisher’s own description does this book justice: “Before the summer is over, Scarlett will have to survive a whirlwind of thievery and romantic missteps. But in the city where anything can happen, she just might be able to pull it off.” Oh, New York, New York. The sequel is Scarlett Fever (Scholastic, 2010).

Nick and NorahBefore I sign off, there are two more books I can’t resist mentioning. The first isn’t in danger of being buzz-free: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Random House, 2006) by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. It’s the ultimate Teens Run Wild for One Night in Manhattan and the World Is Their Oyster tale. It’s witty, provocative, and touching—if you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for?!

UndertownThe second book is upcoming and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet: Undertown (Amulet, March 2013) by Melvin Jules Bukiet. Two middle schoolers end up on a boat, falling through a hole in a construction site in Manhattan. Of course, they explore the underworld of New York in a rollicking adventure. Looking forward to reading this one (and isn’t that cover fantastic?).

Thanks, everyone, for letting me share my fave NYC books for kids and teens! Feel free to share your favorites in the comments—there were too many for me to mention them all!

Have you read and loved these books? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! 


Laura Lutz author photoLaura Lutz is a librarian, children’s literature professor, and consultant. She’s also a home cook, wine enthusiast, mix-CD-maker, and living room dancer. She blogs about food at Pinot and Prose, tweets at foodandbooks, and spends way too much time on Pinterest and Instagram.

 

beyondthelatest_logo_final

Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock StarFirst Day on EarthFrost, and more
  • Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
  • YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God
  • YA librarian Abby Johnson recommends the top five books she read this year: The Berlin Boxing Club; Blizzard of Glass; Dogtag Summer; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have; and A Girl Named Faithful Plum 
  • Book blogger Kari Olson from A Good Addiction recommends books including Freefall, I Swear, Like Mandarin, and more
  • Book blogger Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden recommends UltravioletA Certain Slant of Light, and The Reapers Are the Angels
  • Book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens recommends The Lost Years of Merlin