As someone who loves both curmudgeons and cats, I was delighted to see that grammar grump Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots & Leaves) had gone feline with her first novel, Cat Out of Hell. Already on sale in Britain, it will be published in the U.S. in March, by Melville House. (Listed in the catalog selling points: "Cat on the cover!" This is certainly a draw for me.)
However. Truss' opinion of our feline friends is characteristically skeptical. She launches her horror spoof with the premise that cats have the potential for evil. In fact, some cats are so human-phobic that they don't trust cats who get along with humans . . . and are intent on destroying them. Can one widowed academic foil this plot? And what did his wife have to do with the mystery?
Dating is hard. So are statistics. But Christian Rudder, the co-founder of the dating site OkCupid, presents the facts on both in entertaining, accessible style in Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One’s Looking. Rudder uses the data you thought was private—browsing history, how long you stare at your ex’s Facebook photos, your dating profile and messages—and paints a (sometimes horrifying) portrait of human behavior. Thankfully, it’s all reported anonymously, but that’s not to say you won’t recognize yourself in the statistics. Private browsing? Pshaw. The Internet holds all, and it doesn’t forget.
People tend to run wild on those match questions, marking all kind of stuff as "mandatory," in essence putting a checklist to the world: I’m looking for a dog-loving, agnostic, nonsmoking liberal who’s never had kids—and who’s good in bed, of course. But very humble questions like Do you like scary movies? And Have you ever traveled alone to another country? have amazing predictive power. If you’re ever stumped on what to ask someone on a first date, try those. In about three-quarters of the long-term couples OkCupid has ever brought together, both people have answered them the same way, either both “yes” or both “no.” People tend to overemphasize the big, splashy things: faith, politics, certainly looks, but they don’t matter nearly as much as everyone thinks. Sometimes, they don’t matter at all.
What have you been reading lately?
October is National Reading Group Month! The brainchild of the Women's National Book Association, National Reading Group Month (NRGM) was started in order to celebrate the great things that happen when you combine books, friends and discussion. We'll be joining in the celebration with guest posts, book suggestions and more throughout the month. Stay tuned, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #ReadingGroupMonth to keep up to speed on all of our posts. And remember, we've always got reading group suggestions in our monthly column!
What we talk about when we talk about E. Lockhart's We Were Liars: pretty much nothing. There's a beach and a wealthy family. Our heroine loves a boy. I don't dare share much else. So I'll do my best to avoid any spoilers, but if you haven't read We Were Liars, read on at your own risk.
If you have read it, you know that once you get past all the dramatic hype, this young adult novel is a tantalizing exploration of memory and grief, with an explosive loss of innocence that will not soon be forgotten.
Wondering what to read next? Read on for your next steps.
If you can't bring yourself to leave the salty air, turn to one of Hilderbrand's novels set on the island of Nantucket. In her 2012 novel Summerland, four teenagers find themselves reeling in the aftermath of a deadly car accident. Their summer is defined by tragedy, but there's always hope to be found in a close community. As with all of Hilderbrand's beach reads, this is an ideal balance of sun, sand and heartrending drama.
If you love the super-complex family web and intricate plotting as well as the beachy setting, check out Straub's second (and arguably best) novel. Travel with the Post family from Manhattan to the island of Mallorca, where escape is on the menu but isn't what's being served. Meet Franny and Jim; their teen daughter, Sylvia; their 20-something son, Bobby, and his girlfriend; Franny’s best friend, Charles; and his husband, Lawrence. Secrets are revealed, true natures come to light, and the pages fly by.
If you couldn't get enough of Cady and Gat's impossible romance and are still mulling over questions of your own ability to forgive, try McEwan's crushing and unforgettable tale set in war-torn Europe. The actions of young Briony Tallis cause irreparable damage for years to come in this haunting tale that explores themes of grief, memory and the ramifications of childhood actions in ways very similar to We Were Liars. Plus it has an ending that will leave you reeling.
If your favorite part of We Were Liars was Lockhart's narrative acrobatics and tender, poetic prose, check out Printz Honor-winning author A.S. King, who deftly toes the line of magical realism. Ask the Passengers seems to unfold with the natural ebb and flow of a young girl's imaginative and kind mind as she navigates the difficult coming-out process in a small, insular town.
If you loved the way Cady told her family's story through fairy-tales—in particular "Meat Loves Salt," the tragic story of a wealthy father who rejects his youngest daughter, which inspired Shakespeare's King Lear—you may enjoy the fable qualities of Boy, Snow, Bird, particularly its understanding of the classic "evil" character, the wicked stepmother.
This is another one that shouldn't be discussed too much, at the risk of giving anything away. From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes this masterpiece of red herrings and reading between the lines. The story focuses on three people—Kath, Tommy and Ruth—who were students at a special experimental boarding school called Hailsham. Their realizations about their short lives will leave you breathless.
What do you think, readers? What would you suggest reading after We Were Liars?
RELATED CONTENT: Read our previous "Read it Next" posts.
Occasionally our interviewers give us a peek behind the scenes of their chats with authors. Here, longtime BookPage contributor Alden Mudge talks about some of Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley's more unusual writing habits, revelealed during their discussion of her latest book, Some Luck.
Out of curiosity, I often ask writers to describe their workspaces. I blogged about this once before for BookPage, when, to my surprise, I discovered that several young writers I interviewed in close succession told me that they write in public at their favorite coffee shops.
Jane Smiley’s description of her workspace interested me in a different way. Yes, she has a dedicated writing space, a room of her own, if you will. She mentioned a window looking out on the hillside behind her home in Carmel Valley and stacks of books sharing floorspace with “a lot of dog beds.” Nothing about a desk, a notebook, a computer, a favorite picture on the wall. Instead, what seemed to matter most was that her writing room had doors that connected to other parts of the house. “So I can jump up and run and see what’s going on at any time.”
Smiley once said she has “a basically sunny personality." That was my experience of her. She laughed often throughout our conversation and seemed very much at ease with herself. For her, writing seems to be as natural as a sunrise.
Not that writing doesn’t present its challenges, even after all these years and more than 20 books. Smiley said she “was tearing my hair for years” over her novel Private Life. And for Some Luck, the captivating first novel in her The Last Hundred Years trilogy, the difficulty was deciding what to leave out.
“What I had do was cut, cut, cut. . . . This was an effect of having to do the research. I would learn something and then I would sort of yack about it a little too much. So I would come back and cut the section so that it was just about what was happening rather than about what I was thinking about as I was writing it. That was a good lesson for me, this idea that part of your writing process is talking to yourself about what you’re writing and then eventually having to cut it so that you just have the narrative.”
I was still curious about her workspace. So I asked her whether it was also her library, the place where she did most of her reading.
“Oh no!” Smiley said. “I usually read in the hot tub.” She laughed. “It’s a California tradition, you know.”
In John Scalzi's science fiction novel Lock In, a murder mystery becomes incredibly complex when a strange virus comes into play. Our reviewer writes, "Scalzi shows that being a master storyteller isn’t so much about finding new ingredients as it is about combining old standards in ways that are fresh and engaging. But here Scalzi does both, and his novel twist on robot lit alone would make Lock In worth the read." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Scalzi has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three favorites.
This is Leckie's follow-up to Ancillary Justice, the novel that won just about every major science fiction fantasy award in the last year—the Hugo, the Nebula, the Clarke and more—and established Leckie as one of the best new voices in the genre (and also made me look super smart for blurbing the book). I'm doubling down on my Leckie fandom because Ancillary Sword is a very fine follow-up, featuring her fascinating protagonist Breq heading right back into the thick of things with a new mission and new troubles. Get it—you won't regret it.
I knew James Cambias when we were both working on the student newspaper at the University of Chicago, and he was a master storyteller even then, writing about the history of Chicago. In A Darkling Sea, the setting is vastly different—under the water of a distant planet—but Cambias spins an enthralling tale of (accidental) first contact with an alien species and all the complications that arise from it. Old school science fiction told in a new way.
Hurley has been writing smart, tough, vivid fantasy for a while now, but this book feels like a breakout for her. Set in a world where competing magic systems wax and wane with the movement of moons, the characters respond to an encroaching war—and to a wrinkle in the magic systems which brings into question the idea of individuality. It’s fantastic, in the many senses of the word.
Thank you, John! See anything you'd like to read?
(Author photo by Athena Scalzi)
It seems that the summer 2015 season is off to a good start: We've just heard that Sara Gruen, who made her name with Water for Elephants, will release a new book on June 2—and it's a return to historical fiction.
Though few plot details are available, At the Water's Edge is set in 1942 and follows three Americans who travel to Scotland on a quest to find the Loch Ness monster. Sounds like quite the adventure! Will you read it?
LibraryReads has tallied up the votes from librarians nationwide and put together their monthly list of librarians' most anticipated books. It's going to be a good month!
At the top of the list is Garth Stein's A Sudden Light—a book we had the pleasure of chatting with Stein about just this month! Jodi Picoult's latest novel about a teenage girl hoping to track down her mother, Leaving Time, is also on the list, along with Jane Smiley's Some Luck, which is up for a National Book Award in Fiction. In the mood for something spooky for Halloween? The Boy Who Drew Monsters is also on the list. Because really, what's more terrifying than creepy children?
Does you really need to be convinced to try Banana Split No-Bake Yogurt Cheesecake? Jessica Merchant's Seriously Delish has this and so many more ridiculously fun and tasty recipes that you can't go wrong. You won't find these on her blog any time soon, so go ahead and grab a copy!
Banana Split No-Bake Greek Yogurt Cheesecake
SERVES 4 • TIME: 20 minutes + overnight to set
If I ever had to answer one of the big questions—you know, the really big questions—like what would your ultimate last meal be or what is your all-time favorite dessert, my response would not be cookies or chocolate or brownies or ice cream.
It would be cheesecake.
I have always, always, always been a cheesecake fanatic, since my very first bite. It’s no surprise, because it takes a lot to satisfy these sweet teeth. And the truth is that thick and creamy, often too-rich cheesecake fills the bill every single time.
And it’s not like I even discriminate in flavor. I’ll never forget eating at the Cheesecake Factory for the first time with my grandma and her horror at the array of choices—she claimed that nothing was better than a slice of New York–style cheesecake with strawberries. Nothing? Really? Nothing?
I dunno. I can come up with a few things. I love every and all kind of cheesecake. And my life improved tenfold when I discovered no-bake cheesecakes. Because let’s be real: Baking cheesecake is a royal pain in the ass. It’s super high maintenance, often requires a water bath (whatever that is), then after you’ve poured all your tears into one springform pan, the darn thing cracks down the center and looks like the biggest geographic fault on Earth. It’s stressful.
Greek yogurt cheesecake is my solution to eating cheesecake weekly. The banana split topping is simply that: a topping. The cheesecake is a plain, traditional base that can be served however you’d like. And while we’re on that topic, my favorite way to serve no-bakes are in little mason jars or cute shot glasses so everyone gets their own portion. It’s perfect for this, too, since the Greek yogurt yields a softer, not-quite-as-forgiving cake.
Also: sprinkles for life.
1. In a bowl, mix together the coconut oil and graham crumbs until moistened. Press them into the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan and set it in the fridge.
2. Add the Greek yogurt and cream cheese to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the sweetened condensed milk. Mix until combined. Add the vanilla extract and salt, beating for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the fridge and pour the batter on top of the crust, spreading the top evenly with a spatula. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours or overnight.
3. When you’re ready to serve the cheesecake, set up a toppings bar with the bananas, strawberries, cherries, almonds and sprinkles in small bowls and a jar of chocolate syrup. Remove the cheesecake from the fridge and use a sharp knife to immediately cut it into servings. Top the cheesecake with whatever toppings you wish.