Hampton Sides' true-life Arctic thriller, In the Kingdom of Ice is our August Top Pick in nonfiction.
Sides, best-selling author of Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers, displays his knack for narrative history yet again as he chronicles the journey of American officer George Washington De Long and his crew of 33 aboard the USS Jeannette. The crew set out from San Francisco in 1879, hoping to prove the popular theory that the polar sea was free of ice past the Bering Strait, but those hopes are soon dashed when the Jeannette becomes trapped in ice—where it stayed for the next 21 months.
Drawing on newly available letters, diaries, journals and other archives as well as his own first-hand experience in the Arctic terrain, Sides delivers an utterly spellbinding tale that's sure to keep you reading into the wee hours.
Watch the trailer from Doubleday below:
What do you think, readers? Are you interested in this heroic and harrowing tale?
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill pairs classic high school reads with great teen fiction.
For avid teen readers, the end of summer vacation can herald the end of reading what they want and a return to reading what they must. The teen who devoured The Fault in Our Stars may be less enthusiastic about the source of its title, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. But pitting YA books against the classics of Western literature doesn't have to be an either-or proposition: Some pairs can illuminate each other in new and interesting ways.
Direct retellings of well-known tales abound (see this chart from Epic Reads), but works that complement rather than duplicate the classics can be harder to find. Here are four suggestions of great YA books to read alongside some staples of high school English.
SALEM WHICH TRIALS?
If you read The Crucible in American Lit class, you might remember your teacher saying that Arthur Miller's 1953 play was really about McCarthyism, using the Salem witch trials as a metaphor. Another interpretation is that The Crucible is about what happens when issues of gender, power, illness and social class combine in a high-pressure environment.
If so, Katherine Howe's new YA novel Conversion is the play's perfect readalike. Half of Conversion focuses on high school senior Colleen and her classmates at a highly competitive, all-female Massachusetts school where dozens of girls suddenly come down with unexplained, seemingly unconnected symptoms. (The story is based on a real incident that took place in LeRoy, New York, in 2012, a topic also explored in the recent adult novel The Fever by Megan Abbott.) The other half is narrated by Ann Putnam Jr., a teen at the center of the 1692 witch panic in Salem. The two halves, initially connected only by Colleen's extra credit project about The Crucible, soon converge. Like Arthur Miller, Howe leaves readers wondering exactly how much of a metaphor the Salem witch trials might be for contemporary goings-ons.
TURNING AROUND IN REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE
Dual, possibly intersecting narratives also characterize Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, another contemporary YA novel that takes place partially in the present day and partially in the past—specifically, during the French revolution. This setting makes it the perfect choice to read alongside A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Like Charles Darney, Sydney Carton and Dickens' other characters, the dual narrators of Revolution watch their personal dramas play out against the backdrop of a larger political and social upheaval.
The 150-year gap between these two works might be the most thought-provoking aspect of this pairing. Historical perspectives on the French revolution have changed over time, with Dickens' heroic Bastille-stormers giving way to more nuanced modern interpretations. And readers of both books might want to remember the multiple senses of the word "revolution": It can mean both a war for independence and the act of changing direction.
WHITE DRESSES DRIPPING BLOOD
No one writes the macabre quite like Edgar Allan Poe. Teens who've read his short story "The Fall of the House of Usher" and want more creepy old houses haunted by revenge-seeking, bloodsoaked-dress-wearing gals—but with less onerous vocabulary and more running jokes about Ghostbusters—can't do better than Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Like Poe's classic short story, Blake's novel positively drips with Gothic horror—but it also features biology study sessions, talk of crushes (both ghostly and human) and pop culture references to everything from Harry Potter to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." And fans of both authors can follow up with further works: Poe wrote dozens of short stories and poems, and Blake's sequel, Girl of Nightmares, picks up where the first book ends.
After leaving a place of chaos and conflict, our hero wanders for many miles, meeting people and learning about the world as they travel. But when they finally reach home, they find that their journey is actually just beginning.
This is the plot of Homer's Odyssey and Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming, both classics of their particular canons. While Odysseus navigates giants, sea monsters and other dangers of the ancient, mythological Mediterranean, teenage Dicey has a much more mundane but no less challenging task: bringing her younger siblings to safety after their mother abandons them in a Connecticut parking lot. First published in 1981, Voigt's novel is filled with pay phones, two-dollar bus fares and other relics of bygone decades, but that only adds to its charm. Besides, Homer's epic is almost 3,000 years old, making Homecoming (and its sequels) seem positively contemporary in comparison.
By pairing YA lit with classics, teen readers can apply what they learn from older works to newer and potentially more relevant contexts. Or they can use YA lit to rethink their interpretations of classic works. Either way, the start of school doesn't have to mean the end of reading YA.
The power of TaraShea Nesbit's first novel, The Wives of Los Alamos, builds slowly and catches the reader by surprise. Told in a chorus of women's voices, the book provides a powerful portrait of life in Los Alamos, New Mexico, during the years of the fateful Manhattan Project. Clothed in secrecy, the project's aim was unknown to even many of the men who worked on it—and their long-suffering wives, torn from homes across the country and brought to this desolate area, knew even less.
As Nesbit writes,
“What did we think our husbands were doing in the lab? We suspected, because the military was involved, that they were building a communication device, a rocket, or a new weapon. We ruled out submarines because we were in the desert—but we closely considered types of code breaking.”
A time capsule in book form, this masterful debut recreates a lost world. Check out our full review here.
Usually, the magic happens on Christmas Eve. But not in Marie-Helene Bertino's debut novel, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas, in which the eve of Christmas Eve proves to be a pivotal night for almost-10-years-old Madeleine Altimari. Her goal is to become a jazz star, and she sets out to find the infamous club The Cat's Pajamas and make her debut. Our reviewer writes: "Bertino’s prose easily dips in and out of the lives of her characters as she weaves them together, including insight into secondary figures at each turn. With vivid description and great character development, Bertino brings Philadelphia and its inhabitants to life in an unforgettable tale." (Read the full review here).
We were curious about the books Bertino has enjoyed reading, so we asked her to recommend three favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
I confess: I am a slow-ish, picky reader. I would rather read Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters for the hundredth time than just about anything—I’m that kind of bird. Maybe it’s because I find it difficult to turn my editor’s mind off—I am always twisting and turning words as I’m reading them. Those books that are able to turn my mind off secure my lifelong devotion. Here are three of them.
A book for dreamers and originals:
By Deb Olin Unferth
I can’t remember what fortuitous circumstance led Deb Olin Unferth’s work into my path, but the very first time I read it, I was gobsmacked. She can be wildly specific, totally universal and make a miraculous reversal, all in one line. In the story called “Deb Olin Unferth,” she places a fingertip on every person’s fear (every writer, at least), and presses. In “La Pena,” the unraveling of a couple’s relationship is chronicled in a shatteringly beautiful anecdote. Deb has lines that hold the whole world in them. But, she also has lines like:
He held my hand and we were brave.
I’ve read and taught this collection many times, but it still always manages to surprise me.
I’ve owned this book for several years but it wasn’t until a recent vacation that I chucked it into my suitcase thinking I’d give it a try. The first voice in the book, main character Leopold Gurtsky, frustrated me, charmed me, and held me rapt. By the time I met the second main character, Alma, I knew I was involved with something very special. Kraus reveals decades of pain while leaving room for life’s lightness. Even the physical pages feel important. The History of Love contains some brilliant musings on devotion and aging, and contains an anecdote about a telephone made out of two cans and string that you could read at your wedding. No matter how skillful the body of a book, its overall success is tied up in the way it lands. The last few pages don’t just satisfy, they soar.
A book for all time:
The Little Prince
By Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Little Prince is a baffling and perfect book. It works on the line level, the story level, the character level, the level of insight, and the last level that has no name but is the most essential, if you will—the quality Hemingway referred to as “what butterflies have on their wings.” It also has the #1 dedication ever written. I still struggle with the “lesson” the fox teaches the pint-sized main character, that if you “tame” something, you make it special. Every time I read the book I am newly distressed by that word, “tame.” Yet, at the heart of The Little Prince is an author who understood something about human beings that goes unnoticed by most. Saint Exupery’s exactness makes my exact mind delight. He tried many different manifestations of its most famous line. Can you imagine how the meaning of the book would have changed if he had gone with one of the following?
What can be seen does not matter.
What is important is always somewhere else.
What is important is always invisible.
Both Antoine de Saint-Exupery and another of my favorite writers, Roald Dahl, were pilots. In a biography filmed about the latter, a researcher wondered if the cramped space of a cockpit counter-intuitively sparked an expansiveness of imagination. Dahl famously wrote in a small house on his property, on a wooden lap tray that constricted movement, until he died. I think about this sometimes when I am in my sacred, cramped apartment.
Do any of Bertino's books pique your interest?
(Author photo by Ted Dodson)
One of the most notable debuts of the century so far is Alice Sebold's strikingly inventive The Lovely Bones, the story of a murdered young girl who watches from above as her family attempts to find her killer. For today's Flashback Friday, we're swinging back to 2002 to see what our reviewer—one of the first to pick up this bestseller—had to say about a book that eventually reached millions.
"When you kill off your narrator in the first 10 pages of a novel and tell readers who the killer is you'd better have one compelling story up your sleeve. Alice Sebold does."
It looks like Hollywood has discovered Liane Moriarty, but let the record show that BookPage was there first!
Yesterday it was announced that Reese Witherspoon's production company had optioned Moriarty's latest, Big Little Lies, for film, in a partnership with the production company of Australian actor Nicole Kidman. Although that wasn't a total surprise to those who follow Witherspoon on Instagram.
Moriarty is credited as a producer of the film. Both Kidman and Witherspoon are set to star, but which role they will play remains a mystery. My vote puts Kidman as the ethereally lovely Celeste, and Witherspoon as the sassy Madeline—or perhaps she'll go against type and play quiet single mom Jane? Either way, sounds like a winning adaptation to me. What do you think?
Calling all Trekkies and literature nerds! Robb Perlman has written a quirky and hilarious parody just for you. Fun with Kirk and Spock (Cider Mill Press) puts a sci-fi spin on the classic Dick and Jane series of children's books popularized in the 1950s with characters and plot points from your favorite episodes of "Star Trek: The Original Series."
Perlman riffs on the notorious fate of Redshirts—"See the crewman. / What's the crewman's name? / It does not matter . . . . He is wearing a red shirt"—Captain Kirk's, ahem, fondness for pretty ladies, Uhura's trouble with Tribbles and the extreme grumpiness of popular villain Khan. Even the Gorn gets a shout-out for his fabulous frock!
Check out the excerpt below for a peek inside:
Absolutely packed with punchlines and playful illustrations by Gary Shipman, this book is sure to pop up on more than a few Christmas wish lists this year. Fun with Kirk and Spock is on shelves now! How about it, readers?
Illustrations by Gary Shipman, courtesy of Cider Mill Press.
Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi break down an often intimidating branch of home cooking in their wonderfully accessible cookbook, The Gentle Art of Preserving. Stock up on fresh summer fruits and veggies while you still can—their recipes will let you enjoy them all winter long.
Try this recipe for a childhood favorite: Fruit Leathers! Choose your favorite fruits and get started.
Makes 1 fruit leather, approx. 14 inches square
Raspberry and Banana Leather
Cut the fruit with or without the peel into chunks and puree in a food processor or blender. Pour the purée onto silicone mats or plastic wrap-lined sheets. Make sure the pool of purée doesn’t go over the edge of the sheets; smooth out by shaking and tilting the sheet to make it spread out. The purée should be no thicker than ¼in. Dry in the dehydrator at 135°F for 4–6 hours, or in the oven at 140°F for 6–8 hours. Fruit leathers are ready when they are not sticky to the touch, but can be peeled easily from the mat or plastic wrap. Lift the edge, which will adhere lightly to the surface, and peel it back. If it peels back easily, it is ready.
STORING YOUR FRUIT LEATHER
Either eat immediately or cover the dried leather in a layer of parchment paper and roll up, or cut into 2-inch-wide strips and roll up. Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place for up to 6 weeks, but do check regularly for any signs of mold. Alternatively, pack into vacuum bags and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
During RWA this year, we had the pleasure of talking to many of the most popular romance novelists writing today. But we were also able to chat with a few new voices on the scene. One of the debut authors we chatted with was Rachel Lacey, whose romance Unleashed is set for an October release.
Unleashed, the first book in Rachel Lacey's Love to the Rescue series, follows Cara, a dedicated member of the Triangle Boxer Rescue team. Rachel explains, "Cara is a cancer survivor, and her plan is to be in remission for ten years before she adds anything permanent in her life." Although she adores the dogs she rescues, she only feels ready to commit to fostering the boxers as she helps them find a "forever" home. And of course, men are equally as off limits when it comes to forming an attachment. "But then she gets involved with Matt, a sexy private investigator on animal abuse cases, and sparks start to fly. So she has to make the decision: Do I go for it?"
Just like Cara, Rachel had to make a leap of faith in her own life to see her novel published. "I had been writing since high school," she says, "and I always thought it would be so cool to publish a book. But it was more of a personal hobby. Then, about four years ago, I decided, why don't I try to make this happen?" But Rachel's first authorial instinct wasn't to write romance. "I love reading suspense, so at first I tried writing it. . . . And then I realized that with all the books I read, I'd be kind of disappointed if there weren't two people falling in love." So she switched paths and began focusing exclusively on romance.
After signing up for a writing class with romance novelist Lori Wilde, Rachel realized it would take quite a lot of work to bring her goal of publishing a novel to fruition. "I found out I didn't really know anything about how to write a book or get it published," she says. "So I sort of started over and focused on learning the craft." It all came together for her, and three years later, she sold her series to Forever publishing.
And of course, Rachel loves dogs. All of her pets are rescues, and she adores boxers. "I'm pretty partial to them; I have other breeds in the book, but boxers are near and dear to my heart." Hence, Cara's involvement in a boxer-focused rescue. If you'll note, the cutest model on the cover is a boxer puppy!