Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer Reading List

With beach/cottage season well underway, questions about good summer reads and recommendations have been coming up with alarming frequency. Everyone has their own ways and resources for answering these questions, of course, and I'm no exception. Out of a series of twitter and blog posts (many of them on YA librarian sites), coincidences and other people's recommendations, I've compiled the following list of "must reads" for the summer (and beyond). And I figured I'd might as well share them here, just in case something catches one of your eyes as it did mine. First a disclaimer - these are books I'm going to read, but haven't read yet, so can't vouch for their quality, availability, etc. This is just a list of the books that are currently on my nightstand or Kindle inbox, books that have caught my eye for one reason or another, which I may or may not review or even mention again after summer's end. (that said - if you read or have read one of these and want to chat about it - let me know!!!).

So clearly, any book with this awesome of a title is going to pique some immediate interest. After reading the description, the glowing endorsements from a wide range of notable sources - from Neil Gaiman to Cory Doctorow, and watching the adorable neo-gothic promo video, I'm putting this one at the very top of the summer reading list. The book used to be available free online, and a huge chunk of it still is on the author's website, but really this is an example of using the web to launch something wonderful, and I'm definitely keen on supporting that by tracking down a print copy. The story itself sounds lovely, and from the reviews it also sounds like Valente does some pretty cool (even critical) twists with standard fairy tale tropes in order to create something fresh and original. The basic premise (at least from what I can glean from the the back cover...I'm sure it's more complex) is: A girl named September gets whisked away to Fairyland where she meets amazing creatures (including a "book loving Wyvern" - gotta love that) and is enrolled in a series of adventures and quests. Here's a short promo video about the book put out by the publisher:

The Boneshaker
by Kate Milford 
(illustrations by Andrea Offermann)
Another book that features a heroine who makes things (squee!), I discovered The Boneshaker at the Columbia University book store. I admit that I was first intrigued by the cover - the shock of red hair, the  girl in coveralls, the gears and steampunk-esque objects. The story is set in small town Missouri in the 1910s, and the mix of history, magic, and gorgeous illustrations are all very promising. The School Library Journal describes the heroine, Natalie Minks as a 13-year-old who "likes machines—the way they make sense, the way all the gears and cogs fit together to make something happen." Her life is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious (and perhaps magical...or even demonic) snake-oil salesman, who sounds a little like Leland Gaunt from Stephen King's Needful Things. The book was also reviewed on a few blogs I like, including Great Imaginations and Book Aunt.

by Cherie Priest
So, after I picked up that copy of The Boneshaker, I looked it up online to find out more about it and the author. And in so doing, I found out that there's a better known book (a SciFi channel essential book in fact) by the same name (Boneshaker) by Cherie Priest that fits more squarely within the steampunk genre, is part of a series, and has a massive following online. After reading through the author's website dedicated to the "alternate-history world setting" described in the books (The Clockwork Century), it turns out that I'm going to have to read this one too! It sounds fantastic - in the (alternate) late 1880s, a mom sets out in an airship to rescue her son, last seen headed toward a destroyed Civil War era Seattle (destroyed by her mad-inventor-late-husband). Also, there are zombies. How have I not heard of this book until now, I wonder?

Happily Ever After
by various (including some of my fave) authors
The Amazon description for this book is simply: "a star-studded book of fairy tales, featuring an introduction by Bill Willingham (Fables) and stories by Gregory Maguire, Susanna Clarke, Karen Joy Fowler, Charles de Lint, Holly Black, Garth Nix, Kelly Link, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, ..." Enough said :)

by Trenton Lee Stewart 
(illustrated by Carson Ellis)
This is an oldie, but by all accounts a very goodie. My cousin Zack recommended that I add this series to my list, because it's really about time I read them for myself. I've written about these books before, impressed by some of the fan activity that emerged around them, but agree that I really should experience them firsthand. The Mysterious Benedict Society is a group of "gifted children looking for special opportunities," who embark on adventures, solve mysteries and use their minds and cooperation to defeat a motley crew of villains (and young villains in training). Thanks for the suggestion Zack!

Peter and Max
by Bill Willingham
(Illustrations by Steve Leialoha)
From author Bill Willingham, a novel based on the world and characters from his award-winning Fables comics/graphic novel series (which also happens to be my current absolute favourite comic series). I'm about halfway through this one and it's every bit as gripping as Willingham's amazing comic series...he doesn't just have a great knack for transforming fairy tales characters and themes into something utterly new, playful, dark and epic, but his descriptions are rich, his character development extremely strong, his plot devices unexpected, strong and compelling. The story here follows characters who don't regularly appear in the comic series - Little Bo Peep, Peter Piper and his evil brother Max. If you haven't read the comics yet, this book would serve as a great introduction to Willingham's style - even though you'll be missing half of the experience (the half told through Buckingham's illustrations...though I should add that Leialoha's illustrations here are lovely).

by Michael Chabon
I have no excuse in the world for not having read this yet - award winning, much acclaimed, and written by someone I totally admire and often cite in my work, I clearly should have read this years ago. I'm almost done and every bit as impressed as I thought I'd be. The story follows the exploits of two young Jewish cousins, boys/men who create a wildly successful comic book (well, series of comics) around a superhero called the Escapist leading up to and during WWII, while grappling with deep and very difficult feelings about what's happening in Europe, while also trying to save their family members left behind in Prague. The book is a blend of magic and myth and very real issues, oscillating between the stories the two boys (later men) dream up for their superhero, their own superhero-origin-like backstories, and an alternate history of WWII-era New York. 

And, because my list of academic books to read is constantly acquiring too many new titles to ever get through, it would be great to knock a couple off before classes begin in September. Two that I'd especially like to get to sometime over the next couple months:

and David Gauntlett's Making is Connecting

Monday, July 11, 2011


July is turning into a pretty hectic month, and as a result Gamine Expedition is going on a short, temporary hiatus. I'll be back soon with some updates from NYC and some of the stuff I've been working on here. Until then, I hope we can stay in touch through Twitter.