Genre Friday – Comedic Fantasy

So You Want to Read Comedic Fantasy: Here’s Where to Start

Illustration: Paul Kidby/Orion Books

Fantasy fiction is serious business, until it isn’t. While we love our multi-volume doorstoppers and grimdark epics as much as the next reader, sometimes it’s fun to let loose and look for a laugh. Enter comedic fantasy.

Where fantasy began as a genre is certainly up for debate — one we’re not having now — but if you consider mythology a predecessor, then humor has been part of it since the beginning. Norse myth offers a tale of Thor dressing in drag to fool a frost giant into returning his stolen hammer Mjölnir. There’s also Anansi the spider, an African trickster spirit that cheerfully trolls anyone and anything it can. Those are just a couple of examples.

There are plenty of funny fairy and folk tales, too. Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, just to name a few. Of course, Shakespeare worked plenty of laughs into his own take on the fairy tale, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Heading into the modern era, fantasy fiction godfathers Lord Dunsany, and James Branch Cabell, wrote for chuckles, as did fantasy-adjacent authors like Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain. Plenty of old school fantasy writers did, too. Fritz Leiber’s stuff is full of chuckles, as is Fletcher Pratt’s.

There are plenty of contemporary fantasy writers who know their way around a joke, and if you’re looking for a laugh, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are our suggestions for the humor-hungry bookworm.

The cover of the book Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy
KEVIN HEARNE AND DELILAH S. DAWSON
Iron Druid Chronicles author Kevin Hearne and Star Wars: Phasma author Delilah S. Dawson’s Kill the Farm Boy is a take-no-prisoners comedy assault on the high fantasy genre, complete with a trash-talking goat, necromancer named Steve, and a Dark Lord who is a bit of a turophile — a cheese lover, that is. It isn’t out until July 17, but this should be a definite pre-order for the comedic fantasy fan.

 

The cover of the book The Color of MagicThe Color of Magic
TERRY PRATCHETT
Sir Terry was the 800 pound gorilla of comedic fantasy, and that’s not going to change any time soon. Few, if any, fantasy readers would argue with the contention that his Discworld series pretty much made the genre what it is in the modern age. What is arguable is where one should begin reading the series. According to some fans, you can jump in anywhere you like. Others point to this or that volume as being better points of entry. With all of that in mind, I’ll just point you toward the first book, The Color of Magic, and you can decide for yourself.

 

The cover of the book Another Fine MythAnother Fine Myth
ROBERT ASPRIN
Robert Asprin, like Sir Terry, was a giant in comedic fantasy. His Myth Adventures series started with a fairly formulaic trope — the bumbling wizard’s apprentice — and took it to some weird, weird places. Book one introduces the aforementioned apprentice, Skeeve, his fearsome-looking demon sidekick Aahz, and a host of other misfit characters you’ll come to know and love as much as I did. A note: the series seems to be out of print in dead tree, but the ebooks are still available.

 

The cover of the book The HikeThe Hike
DREW MAGARY
Drew Magary’s fantasy novel The Hike is one of the strangest and funniest contributions to the genre that I’ve read in the last few years. It’s the story of a guy whose short walk in the woods turns into an epic journey across a fantasy world populated with hungry giantesses, witheringly sarcastic crabs, dog-men, and dwarves — Oh God, the dwarves. I almost forgot. Dwarves.

 

The cover of the book The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
WILLIAM GOLDMAN
You were expecting this one, weren’t you? Well, you should be — and with good reason. Goldman’s The Princess Bride is as heartwarming as it is funny, and the book is just as much a pleasure to experience as the movie based on it. (You’ve never seen “The Princess Bride”? Stop reading this now and go. Just go and watch it. I’ll wait.)

 

The cover of the book In the Company of OgresIn the Company of Ogres
A. LEE MARTINEZ
A. Lee Martinez has written a ton of funny stuff across half a dozen genres. In the Company of Ogres is his sharp, pointy stick in the eye of proper fantasy fiction. It’s about a guy — a guy who has trouble staying dead — who is put in charge of an oddball company of monsters, including, but not limited to, a two-headed ogre

 

The cover of the book The Tough Guide to FantasylandThe Tough Guide to Fantasyland
DIANA WYNNE JONES
The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land is your travel guide to the fantasy worlds of your favorite authors. Which ones? All of them! Jones parodic masterwork skewers the fantasy tropes that all of us know and love, from magic swords to dark lords. If you’ve ever lost a few hours at tvtropes.com, then this book is for you.

 

The cover of the book Bored of the RingsBored of the Rings
THE HARVARD LAMPOON
Bored of the Rings is a parody of J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic written by Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney, Harvard Lampoonstaffers who went on to launch the classic humor magazine (and movie production company) National Lampoon. Like the Lampoon itself, the humor of Bored of the Rings can be downright crude, but if your taste leans that way, then you’ll probably enjoy it. (No judgment!)

 

The cover of the book Kings of the WyldKings of the Wyld
NICHOLAS EAMES
In a world where adventuring parties are like rock bands, Clay Cooper and his rowdy crew of mercenaries were legends. Now they’re older, and out of shape, and married, and … well, they’re not kids anymore. But it’s time to get the band back together, and show that you’re never too old to rock. The cover of this book, while awesome, makes it seem a lot darker than it really is. Honestly, it’s a really funny story about the bonds of friendship. And friendly zombies. Air ships, too.

 

The cover of the book To Say Nothing of the DogTo Say Nothing of the Dog
CONNIE WILLIS
I’ll readily concede to stretching the definition of “fantasy” for this one, but I would be remiss not mentioning this bona fide classic.The invention of the time machine has opened up the past to historians in a way that their forebears could only dream of. There are rules, though: You aren’t supposed to bring anything back with you from the past — least of all a cat. Now an overworked Oxford Don has to return to the 19th century to set things right. To Say Nothing of the Dog is part of the same universe as The Doomsday Book, but a heck of a lot funnier.

 

The cover of the book Heroine's JourneyHeroine’s Journey
SARAH KUHN
Does comedic fantasy only come in chainmail and wizard’s hats? I think not. Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex novels stand as proof that you can find big laughs in other forms of fantastic literature. In her case, superhero fiction. Heroine Complex is about a former personal assistant to an A-list superhero whose life turns upside down when she discovers her own powers. Look for book three, Heroine’s Journey, on July 3!

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It’s Okay If You Haven’t Read Harry Potter

Harry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_Stone

During the fall, there are a few things that always remind me that it’s the season. Pumpkin spice everything, scary movies, spooky reads. But there is one thing out there that does it for me more than anything: Harry Potter.

However, this isn’t the same for many people in the world. They don’t associate Harry Potter with the fall. Some people haven’t even seen the movies, let alone read the books. You see them. You know these people. They’re the ones that say “oh, I haven’t watched all of Harry Potter” or “I haven’t read any of the books.”

Most of the time, these responses are met with an avalanche of angry Potter-heads. “WHAT?!” they’ll exclaim.

“How have you never read/watched/OBSESSED about Harry Potter?!”

Many of you reading probably have heard this outrage before. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay. It’s okay if you haven’t read or seen Harry Potter.

Harry Potter came at a really interesting time in my life. The first book I read from the series was actually Chamber of Secrets. I was sixteen or seventeen and hanging out at my friend’s house. We were waiting for some bandmates to come over so we can “jam.” Mind you, I was still not cool for being in a band.

While we were waiting, I glanced over at his bookshelf to see the entire series sitting up there. At this point, I’d heard about the phenomenon known as Harry Potter, but I didn’t invest into it. I felt like I was too old to be reading a book about an 11-year-old.

After a few moments of reading, I was hooked. It was so strange how hooked I became to the book because no other book I’ve read ever really grasped me like that. So after that day, I went ahead and bought the series. By this point, there was only five books available. I read all five. And then when I went to college, I picked up Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows as they were being published. I would spend my evenings reading and getting wrapped up in Harry Potter.

I think a lot of people felt the way I did as a younger person. I was “too old” to be reading Harry Potter and for others, the world was introduced to them when they were adults. Being an adult and reading a book written for kids is hard to prioritize. I mean, I was reading J.K. Rowling alongside Thomas Aquinas and Socrates, not some easy reading.

The other reason why I feel like people may not be reading Harry Potter is because it’s a fantasy novel. I have many friends who just can’t get into fantasy because it’s too far from reality. Many people prefer to read something based in reality and that’s okay too. There are parts of the story in London and the surrounding areas, but perhaps for a few it’s just not enough reality-based reading to be comfortable with. The movies were also coming out at the same time, so I feel a lot of people traded the books off for the movies as well.

In any case, Harry Potter isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. You don’t have to be a fan. You don’t have to love the series like others do. Like many books it’s not about whether the book was good or not, but whether they suit your interests. Don’t let us Potterheads get into yours, but do indulge us when we say Butterbeer is delicious.

By , November 

10 GREAT UNDERWATER SCI-FI AND FANTASY WORKS

Star Trek might have told us that space is the final frontier, but the ocean is the frontier that’s right at our doorstep. Largely unexplored, mysterious, and often downright weird (just look at those deep sea volcanic vent biological communities), the ocean has invited storytelling as long as human beings have been dipping our toes into it. Here are some underwater sci-fi and fantasy books that go from the scientific to the fanciful, from shallow water to the deep and cold where you’ll never know what to expect.

cover for The Scar by China MiévilleTHE SCAR BY CHINA MIÉVILLE

The Scar lives in the same universe as Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, but casts off quickly from that weirdly fantastic shore to go to deeper  and even stranger waters. Passengers of a ship are captured by pirates and forced to join the Armada, a floating city of a thousand ships. The strange leaders of the Armada, called the Lovers, are searching for a massive undersea creature called the avanc. But the purpose isn’t just for some kind of great hunt—it’s to harness the massive creature to take the entire floating city to the Scar, a place in the ocean where reality breaks down and everything is possible. The real question is if the Lovers—or anyone—should have that kind of power. But there’s an entire city of ships on a collision course with it anyway.

WHEN WHALES FALL BY DARCIE LITTLE BADGER

When an oceanographer writes undersea tales (and Dr. Darcie Little Badger happens to be one) you know you’re going to get something special and beautiful. When Whales Fall is a short story published in the online magazine The Colored Lens, and it tells of a society of sentient squid sisters who find their way of life threatened by hollow-shelled behemoths on the surface that hunt whales. For other ocean-related goodness, you should check out The Whalebone Parrot, published in The Dark. (And while it isn’t ocean-related at all, you should also read her story Black, Their Regalia in Lightspeed’s People of Color Destroy Fantasy edition.)

A DOOR INTO OCEAN BY JOAN SLONCZEWSKI

Feminist science fiction set on a water-covered moon populated by the all-female Sharers. The Sharer culture is fascinatingly built; it revolves entirely around the concept of nonviolence. Even the language of the Sharers emphasizes that idea, because there is no differentiation between subject and object, meaning that one thing acting upon another can always be linguistically reversed. Of course, an existence of total nonviolence and peace is going to get screwed up somehow; the Sharers encounter people from another planet, who threaten them. They deal with this threat by inviting a man from that planet into their society and teach him their ways; in return he helps defend them from the threatened invasion.

Cover art of Rocheworld by Robert L. ForwardROCHEWORLD BY ROBERT L. FORWARD

It’s an oldie but a goodie, a “hard” sci-fi tale of a spaceship called the Dragonfly (fun fact: the original form of this novel was called Flight of the Dragonfly) traveling to a strange double planet called Rocheworld. One “lobe” of the planet is dry, and the other is covered entirely by an ocean. The ocean world is populated by a water-dwelling species called the Flouwen, who are utterly adorable blobs that also happen to be incredibly good at math. Rocheworld is the opener to a series that goes Robinson Crusoe in a fun way, and ultimately builds a society between humans and the undersea, friendly aliens.

Fantasy Series Comes to an End | Lagoon Nnedi OkoraforLAGOON BY NNEDI OKORAFOR

Aliens have landed in the lagoon that stands next to Lagos, Nigeria, and the city will never be the same. The mixing of land and sea represented by the lagoon morphs into the mixing of alien and human, sometimes harmonious and sometimes very much not. The real question isn’t so much what the aliens want or if they can be trusted, but if the people of Lagos can adjust to this sudden shift in their world, and what they will become on the other side of it. While this first contact story takes place mostly on dry land, the underwater scenes as the aliens arrive are absolutely breathtaking. The sensibility of the lagoon as a liminal space permeate the novel, and at times while the characters are on dry land, they seem to be about to drown. It’s rich, delightful, and beautifully told.

into the drowning deep by mira grant coverINTO THE DROWNING DEEP BY MIRA GRANT

Mermaids like you’ve never seen them before, vicious and bloodthirsty and downright chthonic. Into the Drowning Deep is a sequel to Mira Grant’s standalone novella Rolling in the Deep. In the novella, a ship named the Atargatis, populated with scientists and a reality TV “documentary” crew, goes looking for mermaids and gets more than they bargained for in a messy, bloody, horrifying way. Seven years later in Into the Drowning Deep, the sister of one of the slain passengers of the Atargatis embarks on a new journey funded by the same media company, determined to get revenge and show that the horrifying existence of mermaids isn’t actually a hoax. As you might imagine, the mermaids aren’t a hoax, they’ve been waiting for the humans to return, and things are going to get bloody. It’s a mix of the cut throat horrors of academia, the banal evil of reality TV entertainment, and some excellent B movie monster fun.

The Deep by clipping.THE DEEP BY CLIPPING

The Deep is the story of the society of water-breathing people built by the children of pregnant, enslaved African women who were thrown overboard from slave ships crossing the Atlantic. These people must rise up to fight the violent intrusion of deep sea drilling to their deep, watery home. The Deep is not yet technically a book—it’s a single by clipping.—but if it’s good enough to be nominated for a Hugo Award (which it was, for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form in the 2018 Hugos), it’s good enough for you. And remember how I said not yet? Rivers Solomon, author of the fantastic (but not underwater) Unkindness of Ghosts, is writing the book for The Deep, and it should becoming out from Saga in 2019.

REEFSONG BY CAROL SEVERANCE

After nearly dying in a fire while in pursuit of her duties, Angie Dinsman wakes up to find that her employer, the World Life Company, has altered her body totally without her permission. She’s got gills and tentacles now. World Life Company (which definitely does not sound like an evil corporation, no sir) wants Angie to recover some sensitive research that they will definitely not be using in a bad way on a water planet named Lesaat. Angie agrees while secretly resolving to destroy World Life Company from within, and thus her adventure begins. Reefsong has a strong cast of female characters and deals with resonant issues of exploitation (both of environment and people) and environmental damage that make a book that’s well over twenty years old still relevant today.

MEG: A NOVEL OF DEEP TERROR BY STEVE ALTEN

A diver watches in horror as a megalodon rises from the depths of the Mariana Trench, able to escape their deep prison due to a break in the layer of super cold water that has kept them trapped in the depths for millions of years. It’s only a matter of time until the massive sharks wreak terror on the oceans and eat the food chain from end to end. Someone has to stop them. And if this plot sounds suspiciously similar to a movie that came out in the summer of 2018, starring Jason Statham and Bingbing Li, that would be because The Meg was totally based off this monster book that’s so delightfully pulpy, it’s got a giant shark eating a t-rex on the cover.

THE SEA ETERNAL BY LYNNEA GLASSER

Another unconventional offering from below the waves—this is an interactive epic fantasy novel from Choice of Games, and an award winner at that. In The Sea Eternal, the whales have granted merpeople immortality, and all they want in return is help defending themselves from the giant squid, with whom they’re locked in an endless war. But of course, good things never last, and a rogue mermaid tries to destroy this precious whale gift. There are plenty of secrets, and conflicts, and choices to make during reading, following a merperson that can be almost anything the reader wants.


 

This list of underwater sci-fi and fantasy books is sponsored by Lost Arrow, Book I of The Kalelah Series by Marshall Ross.

Millennia ago, the starship Kalelah buried itself seven miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean. We have no idea of its existence. It has no idea of ours. And once that changes, everything does. For the worse. Suddenly, two human civilizations – one alien and one Earth-bound – are forced to come to grips with a future neither had ever imagined. And a war nobody wants. It’s a colonization story turned on its head and crafted with all the intrigue and layers of a nail-biting thriller. Readers say, “Like Dan Brown wrote a Crichton story.”
By , November 

What Should I Read Next? This Year’s Reading Guide

Do you ever catch yourself asking: “What should I read next?” With a seemingly endless supply of books and a limited number of hours in a day, it can be daunting to choose your next great read. We’re here to help. We pulled together a list of exciting new books and made a reading guide to help you figure out what you should read next. Below you’ll find book recommendations for a wide variety of genres, including suspense, historical fiction, romance, young adult, fantasy, science fiction, nonfiction, and humor. Find your favorite genre, and pick from one of the few carefully chosen recommendations, and finally answer the question, “What should I read next?” Publishers’ descriptions included below.

Suspense

Here are a few of the best page-turning, take-your-breath-away suspense novels out this year, including some of the top selections from mystery, thriller, and horror.

book coverDepth of Winter by Craig Johnson
Welcome to Walt Longmire’s worst nightmare. In Craig Johnson’s latest mystery, Depth of Winter, an international hit man and the head of one of the most vicious drug cartels in Mexico has kidnapped Walt’s beloved daughter, Cady, to auction her off to his worst enemies, of which there are many. The American government is of limited help and the Mexican one even less. Walt heads into the one-hundred-and-ten degree heat of the Northern Mexican desert alone, one man against an army.

 

book coverThe Outsider by Stephen King
An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

 

book coverA Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
The fabulously wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore is home to tigers, elephants, diamond mines, and the beautiful Palace of the Sun. But when the heir to the throne is assassinated in the presence of Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant ‘Surrender-Not’ Banerjee, they discover a kingdom riven with suppressed conflict. Prince Adhir was a modernizer whose attitudes–and romantic relationships–may have upset the more religious elements of his country, while his brother–now in line to the throne–appears to be a feckless playboy. As Wyndham and Banerjee desperately try to unravel the mystery behind the assassination, they become entangled in a dangerous world where those in power live by their own rules–and those who cross their paths pay with their lives. They must find a murderer, before the murderer finds them…

 

book coverThe Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.

One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen, but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.

 

book coverThe Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

 

book coverNeed to Know by Karen Cleveland
Vivian Miller. High-powered CIA analyst, happily married to a man she adores, mother of four beautiful children. Until the moment she makes a shocking discovery that makes her question everything she believes.

She thought she knew her husband inside and out. But now she wonders if it was all a lie. How far will she go to learn the truth?  And does she really NEED TO KNOW?

 

Historical Fiction

Slip into the past with one of this year’s biggest historical fiction novels. Whatever your favorite era, you’ll find an exciting new book to read!

book coverNext Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba’s high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country’s growing political unrest–until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary…

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

 

book coverThe Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.

For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public’s disdain for a “woman artist.” Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded–even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter–Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they’ll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay’s life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece–an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.

 

book coverMy Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
A general’s daughter…

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.

A founding father’s wife…

But the union they create—in their marriage and the new nation—is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all—including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.

The last surviving light of the Revolution…

When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle—to understand the flawed man she married and imperfect union he could never have created without her…

 

book coverSong of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik
All through her childhood in Tehran, Forugh Farrokhzad is told that Persian daughters should be quiet and modest. She is taught only to obey, but she always finds ways to rebel—gossiping with her sister among the fragrant roses of her mother’s walled garden, venturing to the forbidden rooftop to roughhouse with her three brothers, writing poems to impress her strict, disapproving father, and sneaking out to flirt with a teenage paramour over café glacé. During the summer of 1950, Forugh’s passion for poetry takes flight—and tradition seeks to clip her wings.

Forced into a suffocating marriage, Forugh runs away and falls into an affair that fuels her desire to write and to achieve freedom and independence. Forugh’s poems are considered both scandalous and brilliant; she is heralded by some as a national treasure, vilified by others as a demon influenced by the West. She perseveres, finding love with a notorious filmmaker and living by her own rules—at enormous cost. But the power of her writing only grows stronger amid the upheaval of the Iranian revolution.

Inspired by Forugh Farrokhzad’s verse, letters, films, and interviews—and including original translations of her poems—this haunting novel uses the lens of fiction to capture the tenacity, spirit, and conflicting desires of a brave woman who represents the birth of feminism in Iran—and who continues to inspire generations of women around the world.

 

Romance

Here are some of the most swoon-worthy romance novels that have hit the shelves so far this year, including contemporary and historical, as well as romantic suspense.

book coverThe Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part–they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans…

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He’s even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik’s social media blows up–in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can’t be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes…

 

book coverThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases–a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice–with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan–from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but crave all of the other things he’s making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

 

book coverFrom Here to You by Jamie McGuire
As Darby Dixon sits in a tiny Texas church bathroom on her wedding day holding a positive pregnancy test, she realizes that marrying her fiancé would be the worst decision of her life. She’s never been very good at standing up for herself, but she’ll sure as hell stand up for her baby. With very little cash and a ton of courage, she flees town to take a new name and start a new life.

As a Marine, Scott “Trex” Trexler worked in the most treacherous, corrupt, war-torn places on earth. With his new top-secret security job, he finally has a chance to return to the one place he’s felt at peace: Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The moment Trex checks in at the hotel where she’s working, Darby knows he’s dangerous. He may want her to think he’s another hotshot firefighter, along with all the others battling the nearby mountain blaze, but something doesn’t add up. No way will she get involved with another man she can’t fully trust – and Trex clearly isn’t telling her everything. As Darby’s ex gets closer and closer to finding her, both she and Trex will soon find out that what you don’t know really can hurt you.

 

book coverSomeone to Care by Mary Balogh
Two years after the death of the Earl of Riverdale, his family has overcome the shame of being stripped of their titles and fortune–except for his onetime countess, Viola. With her children grown and herself no longer part of the social whirl of the town, she is uncertain where to look for happiness–until quite by accident her path crosses once again with that of the Marquess of Dorchester, Marcel Lamarr.

Marcel Lamarr has been a notorious womanizer since the death of his wife nearly twenty years earlier. Viola caught his eye when she herself was a young mother, but she evaded his seduction at the time. A prize that eluded him before, she is all the more irresistible to him now although he is surprised to discover that she is as eager now for the excitement he offers as he is himself.

When the two defy convention and run away together, they discover that the ties of respectability are not so easily severed, and pleasure can ensnare you when you least expect it….

 

book coverDark in Death by J. D. Robb
It was a stab in the dark.

On a chilly February night, during a screening of Psycho in midtown, someone sunk an ice pick into the back of Chanel Rylan’s neck, then disappeared quietly into the crowds of drunks and tourists in Times Square. To Chanel’s best friend, who had just slipped out of the theater for a moment to take a call, it felt as unreal as the ancient black-and-white movie up on the screen. But Chanel’s blood ran red, and her death was anything but fictional.

Then, as Eve Dallas puzzles over a homicide that seems carefully planned and yet oddly personal, she receives a tip from an unexpected source: an author of police thrillers who recognizes the crime–from the pages of her own book. Dallas doesn’t think it’s coincidence, since a recent strangulation of a sex worker resembles a scene from her writing as well. Cops look for patterns of behavior: similar weapons, similar MOs. But this killer seems to find inspiration in someone else’s imagination, and if the theory holds, this may be only the second of a long-running series.

The good news is that Eve and her billionaire husband Roarke have an excuse to curl up in front of the fireplace with their cat, Galahad, reading mystery stories for research. The bad news is that time is running out before the next victim plays an unwitting role in a murderer’s deranged private drama–and only Eve can put a stop to a creative impulse gone horribly, destructively wrong.

From the author of Echoes in Death, this is the latest of the edgy, phenomenally popular police procedurals that Publishers Weekly calls “inventive, entertaining, and clever.”

 

book coverJosh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take–and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met–when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes–to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them…right?

 

Young Adult

Young adult isn’t just for teens — this year’s titles have won awards and wowed critics. Take a look at some of 2018’s biggest young adult offerings.

book coverBridge of Clay by Markus Zusak
The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome?

Written in powerfully inventive language and bursting with heart, Bridge of Clay is signature Zusak.

 

book coverThe Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
A stunning, heartbreaking debut novel about grief, love, and family, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson and Celeste Ng.

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a stunning and heartbreaking novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

 

book coverTo Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin
Savannah is dreading being home alone with her overbearing mother after her big sister–and best friend–goes off to college. But if she can just get through senior year, she’ll be able to escape to college, too. What she doesn’t count on is that her mother’s obsession with weight has only grown deeper since her appearance on an extreme weight-loss show, and now Savvy’s mom is pressuring her even harder to be constantly mindful of what she eats.

Between her mom’s diet-helicoptering, missing her sister, and worrying about her collegiate future, Savvy has enough to worry about. And then she meets George, the cute new kid at school who has insecurities of his own. As Savvy and George grow closer, they help each other discover how to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now before it disappears.

To Be Honest is another sharp, witty novel from Maggie Ann Martin about a spunky heroine who is dealing with very real issues–body image, parental pressure, loneliness, first love, and finding your way–with heart and humor.

 

book coverDread Nation by Justina Ireland
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children to attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

 

Fantasy & Science Fiction

If you love novels built on fantasy worlds or space exploration, here are a few of the most imaginative books to hit the shelves this year.

book coverChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

 

book coverKilling Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
In Killing Commendatore, a thirty-something portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist, Tomohiko Amada. When he discovers a previously unseen painting in the attic, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances. To close it, he must complete a journey that involves a mysterious ringing bell, a two-foot-high physical manifestation of an Idea, a dapper businessman who lives across the valley, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt during World War II in Vienna, a pit in the woods behind the artist’s home, and an underworld haunted by Double Metaphors. A tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art—as well as a loving homage to The Great Gatsby—Killing Commendatore is a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers.

 

book coverIron Gold by Pierce Brown
They call him father, liberator, warlord, Slave King, Reaper. But he feels like a boy as he falls toward the war-torn planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy. It is the tenth year of war and the thirty-third of his life.

A decade ago Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk all he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp, and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the Sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe. Iron Gold is the story of the creation of a new one. Witness the beginning of a stunning new saga of tragedy and triumph from masterly New York Times bestselling author Pierce Brown.

 

book coverMarkswoman by Rati Mehrotra
Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family.

When Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.

Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is thin . . . as thin as the blade of a knife.

 

book coverRenegades by Marissa Meyer
The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies–humans with extraordinary abilities–who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone…except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice–and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to the villains who have the power to end them both.

 

Nonfiction

If you’re looking for something new in nonfiction, take a look at our recommendations below, including advice, memoirs, history, and biography.

book coverEducated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills” bag. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged metal in her father’s junkyard.

Her father distrusted the medical establishment, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when an older brother became violent.

When another brother got himself into college and came back with news of the world beyond the mountain, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. She taught herself enough mathematics, grammar, and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University. There, she studied psychology, politics, philosophy, and history, learning for the first time about pivotal world events like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes from severing one’s closest ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

 

book coverI’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it has been hailed as a modern true crime classic—one which fulfilled Michelle’s dream: helping unmask the Golden State Killer.

 

book coverNot That Bad by Roxane Gay
In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics, including actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union and writers Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, Claire Schwartz, and Bob Shacochis. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. Like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, Not That Bad will resonate with every reader, saying “something in totality that we cannot say alone.”

Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.

 

book coverWhen: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
Everyone knows that timing is everything. But we don’t know much about timing itself. Our lives are a never-ending stream of “when” decisions: when to start a business, schedule a class, get serious about a person. Yet we make those decisions based on intuition and guesswork.

Timing, it’s often assumed, is an art. In When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Pink shows that timing is really a science.

Drawing on a rich trove of research from psychology, biology, and economics, Pink reveals how best to live, work, and succeed. How can we use the hidden patterns of the day to build the ideal schedule? Why do certain breaks dramatically improve student test scores? How can we turn a stumbling beginning into a fresh start? Why should we avoid going to the hospital in the afternoon? Why is singing in time with other people as good for you as exercise? And what is the ideal time to quit a job, switch careers, or get married?

In When, Pink distills cutting-edge research and data on timing and synthesizes them into a fascinating, readable narrative packed with irresistible stories and practical takeaways that give readers compelling insights into how we can live richer, more engaged lives.

 

book coverThe Year of Less by Cait Flanders
In her late twenties, Cait Flanders found herself stuck in the consumerism cycle that grips so many of us: earn more, buy more, want more, rinse, repeat. Even after she worked her way out of nearly $30,000 of consumer debt, her old habits took hold again. When she realized that nothing she was doing or buying was making her happy —only keeping her from meeting her goals —she decided to set herself a challenge: she would not shop for an entire year.

The Year of Less documents Cait’s life for twelve months during which she bought only consumables: groceries, toiletries, gas for her car. Along the way, she challenged herself to consume less of many other things besides shopping. She decluttered her apartment and got rid of 70 percent of her belongings; learned how to fix things rather than throw them away; researched the zero waste movement; and completed a television ban. At every stage, she learned that the less she consumed, the more fulfilled she felt.

The challenge became a lifeline when, in the course of the year, Cait found herself in situations that turned her life upside down. In the face of hardship, she realized why she had always turned to shopping, alcohol, and food —and what it had cost her. Unable to reach for any of her usual vices, she changed habits she’d spent years perfecting and discovered what truly mattered to her.

Blending Cait’s compelling story with inspiring insight and practical guidance, The Year of Less will leave you questioning what you’re holding on to in your own life —and, quite possibly, lead you to find your own path of less.

 

book coverThe Recovering by Leslie Jamison
With its deeply personal and seamless blend of memoir, cultural history, literary criticism, and reportage, The Recovering turns our understanding of the traditional addiction narrative on its head, demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself. Leslie Jamison deftly excavates the stories we tell about addiction–both her own and others’–and examines what we want these stories to do and what happens when they fail us. All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the complicated bearing that race and class have on our understanding of who is criminal and who is ill.

At the heart of the book is Jamison’s ongoing conversation with literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Billie Holiday, Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, and David Foster Wallace, as well as brilliant lesser-known figures such as George Cain, lost to obscurity but newly illuminated here. Through its unvarnished relation of Jamison’s own ordeals, The Recovering also becomes a book about a different kind of dependency: the way our desires can make us all, as she puts it, “broken spigots of need.” It’s about the particular loneliness of the human experience-the craving for love that both devours us and shapes who we are.

For her striking language and piercing observations, Jamison has been compared to such iconic writers as Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, yet her utterly singular voice also offers something new. With enormous empathy and wisdom, Jamison has given us nothing less than the story of addiction and recovery in America writ large, a definitive and revelatory account that will resonate for years to come.

 

Humor

You’ll find something funny to read on our humor list, whether you’re looking for an amusing novel or a laugh-out-loud memoir.

book coverSophia of Silicon Valley by Anna Yen
During the heady years of the tech boom, incorrigibly frank Sophia Young lucks into a job that puts her directly in the path of Scott Kraft, the eccentric CEO of Treehouse, a studio whose animated films are transforming movies forever. Overnight, Sophia becomes an unlikely nerd whisperer. Whether her success is due to dumb luck, savage assertiveness, insightful finesse (learned by dealing with her irrational Chinese immigrant mother), or a combination of all three, in her rarified position she finds she can truly shine.

As Scott Kraft’s right-hand woman, whip-smart Sophia is in the eye of the storm, sometimes floundering, sometimes nearly losing relationships and her health, but ultimately learning what it means to take charge of her own future the way the men around her do. But when engineer/inventor Andre Stark hires her to run his company’s investor relations, Sophia discovers that the big paycheck and high-status career she’s created for herself may not be worth living in the toxic environment of a boys-club gone bad.

 

book coverWhen Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger
Welcome to Greenwich, Connecticut, where the lawns and the women are perfectly manicured, the Tito’s and sodas are extra strong, and everyone has something to say about the infamous new neighbor.

Let’s be clear: Emily Charlton does not do the suburbs. After leaving Miranda Priestly, she’s been working in Hollywood as an image consultant to the stars, but recently, Emily’s lost a few clients. She’s hopeless with social media. The new guard is nipping at her heels. She needs a big opportunity, and she needs it now.

When Karolina Hartwell, a gorgeous former supermodel, is arrested for a DUI, her fall from grace is merciless. Her senator-husband leaves her, her Beltway friends disappear, and the tabloids pounce.

In Karolina, Emily finds her comeback opportunity. But she quickly learns Greenwich is a world apart and that this comeback needs a team approach.

So it is that Emily, the scorned Karolina, and their mutual friend Miriam, a powerful attorney turned stay-at-home suburban mom, band together to not only navigate the social land mines of suburban Greenwich but win back the hearts of the American public. Along the way, an indispensable ally emerges in one Miranda Priestly.

With her signature wit, Lauren Weisberger offers an alluring look into a sexy, over-the-top world–and proves it’s style and substance together that gets the job done.

 

book coverAnd Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O’Connell
When Meaghan O’Connell got accidentally pregnant in her twenties and decided to keep the baby, she realized that the book she needed — a brutally honest, agenda-free reckoning with the emotional and existential impact of motherhood — didn’t exist. So she decided to write it herself.

And Now We Have Everything is O’Connell’s exploration of the cataclysmic, impossible-to-prepare-for experience of becoming a mother. With her dark humor and hair-trigger B.S. detector, O’Connell addresses the pervasive imposter syndrome that comes with unplanned pregnancy, the fantasies of a “natural” birth experience that erode maternal self-esteem, post-partum body and sex issues, and the fascinating strangeness of stepping into a new, not-yet-comfortable identity.

Channeling fears and anxieties that are still taboo and often unspoken, And Now We Have Everything is an unflinchingly frank, funny, and visceral motherhood story for our times, about having a baby and staying, for better or worse, exactly yourself.

 

book coverDead People Suck by Laurie Kilmartin
Death is not for the faint of heart, and sometimes the best way to cope is through humor. No one knows this better than comedian Laurie Kilmartin. She made headlines by live-tweeting her father’s time in hospice and her grieving process after he passed, and channeled her experience into a comedy special, 45 Jokes About My Dead Dad. Dead People Suck is her hilarious guide to surviving (sometimes) death, dying, and grief without losing your mind.

If you are old and about to die, sick and about to die, or with a loved one who is about to pass away or who has passed away, there’s something for you. With chapters like “Are You An Old Man With Daughters? Please Shred Your Porn,” “If Cancer was an STD, It Would Be Cured By Now,” and “Unsubscribing Your Dead Parent from Tea Party Emails,” Laurie Kilmartin guides you through some of life’s most complicated moments with equal parts heart and sarcasm.

 

book coverSo Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know by Retta
In her hilarious book of essays, Parks and Recreation star Retta shares the stories that led to her success in Hollywood.

In So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know, Parks and Recreation star Retta takes us on her not-so-meteoric rise from roaches to riches (well, rich enough that she can buy $15,000 designer handbags yet scared enough to know she’s always a heartbeat away from ramen with American cheese).

Throwing her hard-working Liberian parents for a loop, Retta abandons her plan to attend med school after graduating from Duke University to move to Hollywood to star in her own sitcom–like her comedy heroes Lucille Ball and Roseanne.

Say what? Word. Turns out Retta might actually be on to something. After winning Comedy Central’s stand-up competition, she should be ready for prime time–but a fear of success derails her biggest dream.

Whether reminiscing about her days as a contract chemist at GlaxoSmithKline, telling “dirty” jokes to Mormons, feeling like the odd man out on Parks, fending off racist trolls on Twitter, flirting with Michael Fassbender, or expertly stalking the cast of Hamilton, Retta’s unique voice and refreshing honesty will make you laugh, cry, and laugh so hard you’ll cry.

Her eponymous sitcom might not have happened yet, but by the end of So Close to Being the Sh*t, you’ll be rooting for Retta to be the next one-named wonder to take over your television. And she just might inspire you to reach for the stars, too.

By Kristina Wright

After ‘Forty Years Of Pointed Ears,’ ‘ElfQuest’ Ends Its Legendary Run

Cutter Kinseeker, chief of the Wolfriders, and his lifemate Leetah.
Wendy Pini

ElfQuest is something unique in the world of comics: It’s one of the longest-running fantasy series ever — and it’s been the passion project of just two people for its whole life.

There there were few comics shops, fewer conventions, and not a lot of women were making comics when creators Wendy and Richard Pini began their epic quest in 1978. But now that quest is over, and they’re on a farewell tour called Forty Years of Pointed Ears.

Elfquest 1

Elfquest 1The Final Quest
by Wendy Pini and Richard Pini
Paperback, 1 volume

ElfQuest is an old-fashioned comic. It isn’t dark, it isn’t gritty. It is what says on the cover: A four-decade saga about elves. Elves with big eyes, bigger hair, and really great abs. On a quest.

“The quest is to find out who this race of beings are,” says artist and co-creator Wendy Pini,”where they came from, and how they can best fit into this world that they’re on, that is not their true home.”

Cutter Kinseeker, chief of the Wolfriders, is the central character — and it’s his quest for home and community, his hero’s journey, that drives the story.

It’s easy to snark about the hair, the abs, and how incredibly earnest Cutter and his kin can be. But the comic is utterly addictive — start flipping those vintage black and white pages and you won’t stop. And a lot of that is down to Pini’s art, influenced by her love of Marvel Comics legend Jack Kirby and Japanese artists like Osamu Tezuka.

“Tezuka … he is considered the Walt Disney of Japan,” she says. “He created Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion … and from Tezuka I learned the line of beauty. It’s a curving, sweeping kind of line that you see throughout Asian art that is so aesthetically, spiritually soothing and beautiful. And to take this soothing artwork and then apply it to action scenes where the characters are just literally going through hell creates such an amazing tension.”

Pini was already a working fantasy illustrator when she started drawing ElfQuest. It was 1978, and the time was right: Star Wars was huge, Lord of the Rings was on everyone’s shelves, so a comic about elves seeking a home on a planet not their own seemed like a sure bet. But there was just one problem: How do you get your comic into people’s hands when there are hardly any comics stores?

The very first issue of ElfQuest, from 1978.
Wendy Pini/IPS

Greg Bennett is the co-owner of Big Planet Comics in Bethesda, Md. — and an ElfQuest fan — and he says that when the Pinis first started making the comic, modern distribution systems just didn’t exist. “That’s daring as heck, because there was no way to get that stuff out there then other than to go to conventions, sell it yourself, go store to store to store and hand sell it.

The hand-selling worked; ElfQuest took off. In its 80s heyday, the Pinis say it was one of the first comics to make it into mainstream bookstores. These days, ElfQuest fans can be a little harder to find — it’s mostly a word of mouth kind of thing. But luckily for me, we have one here at NPR: Morning Edition supervising editor Melisa Goh.

“Everyone has a story, a movie, a book, something that was very influential in their lives at a young age, and ElfQuest was mine,” Goh says. “There is a community aspect to ElfQuest that I liked a lot. The idea that you were looking for your own kind, so that you can take community and shelter and solace in each other.”

Goh has loved ElfQuest since she was 11. She loved it so much, in fact, that she invented her own character.

“Her name was Triller. She wore blue. She was a musician, which was a little bit risque in the elf world that I had in my mind, because if you’re an ElfQuest elf you know that — ‘in the trees, as you please, on the ground, not a sound,’ so my character was a bit of a rebel because she liked to play music.”

It was actually kind of hard for me to pry that information loose, because Goh says she’s still traumatized about being teased for reading ElfQuest as a kid.

Comic shop owner Greg Bennett says that did happen — ElfQuest was always a little outside the mainstream, and its fans were mostly women at a time that women weren’t reading a lot of comics — so he sometimes had to deal with trash-talking customers. “And as a comic shop owner any time I heard somebody doing that I would always, first thing I would say is, well, did you ever read ElfQuest? And they would always say, well, no — I’m like OK, well, after you go read it, go read those first 20 black and white magazines, then come back and tell me ElfQuest’s no good — and any one of them actually took me up on it said oh wait, you’re right. This is really good.”

The last storyline — appropriately called “The Final Quest,” wrapped up earlier this year, 40 years to the day after the publication of the first issue. The Pinis aren’t abandoning the elves completely — they’re going to allow other creators to tell stories in their world. But they’re pretty close-mouthed about what’s coming next.

“We know what you want to know. So we’re focusing on that,” Wendy says.

“There are two strong threads, and the fans just want those threads spun out,” Richard adds. “I know, but we’re not going to cater to them,” Wendy chimes in. “We don’t know — just because we know what the fans want, doesn’t mean we’re going to take the story that way.”

If you want to join the quest, the early issues are available for free online.

By , September 26, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR

Interplanetary Love: Our Favorite Romances in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Romance might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy. Let’s face it, a lot of us come for intergalactic intrigue, swashbuckling heroes, badass heroines, and all the attendant fun. But in between bludgeoning orcs, outshooting stormtroopers, and outwitting the fae, our intrepid heroes have been known to find love in the midst of all that SFF action. Here’s a few of our favorite sci-fi and fantasy couplings.

The cover of the book OutlanderOutlander
DIANA GABALDON
Claire & Jamie

These time-displaced lovers sit firmly at the heart of the Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Claire Randall is determined to find her way back to 1945 after being mysteriously transported to 1743 Scotland. But after a chance encounter with the swashbuckling Jamie Fraser, Claire’s return to her own time becomes a tad less… pressing.

 

The cover of the book Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess LeiaStar Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia
DAVE WOLVERTON
Leia & Han

What more really needs to be said about Han Solo and Leia Organa? The roguish smuggler and the daring princess are arguably the most beloved coupling in sci-fi. While the beginnings of their love story made for a compelling part of the original film trilogy (and pop culture’s most infamous utterance of “I know”), their continued relationship through the Star Wars Legends timeline is really why they made this list.

 

The cover of the book FablesFables
BILL WILLINGHAM
Snow White and Bigby Wolf

Bill Willingham created one of the most compelling worlds in comics with Fables, which debuted in 2002, and the will-they-or-won’t-they, more-than-a-little-rocky courtship of Bigby Wolf and Snow White was definitely a major reason for that. While their relationship certainly didn’t begin under the best of circumstances (and those circumstances most definitely did not age well), Bigby and Snow nonetheless managed to find love in spite of Bigby’s gruff, hard-boiled exterior.

 

The cover of the book The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
WILLIAM GOLDMAN
Westley and Buttercup

A quintessential – if off-kilter – fairy tale romance in what may be the greatest of all fairy tale send-ups. Despite his beginnings as a humble stable boy and a run-in with a particularly band of legendary pirates, Westley always manages to find his way back to his beloved. “As you wish,” indeed.

 

The cover of the book LegendLegend
MARIE LU
June & Day

These star-crossed lovers most definitely came from different sides of the dystopian track. He was born in the slums and became the most wanted criminal in the country. She was an elite prodigy at the military academy, sworn to bring him to justice. Of course, they’re going to fall in love and it’s going to get all complicated. How else could it go?

 

The cover of the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
J. K. ROWLING
Molly and Arthur Weasley

We never get to see the Weasleys in the heyday of their courtship, but they are a perfect illustration of the way great relationships evolve. Arthur and Molly are still very much in love, but it’s a love that’s been tempered by conflict and strengthened by family. It’s well-worn, well-loved, and comfortable. May we all be so lucky.

 

The cover of the book The Left Hand of DarknessThe Left Hand of Darkness
URSULA K. LE GUIN
Estraven & his sibling

The impact of the late Ursula K. Le Guin on fantasy and science fiction literature truly can’t be overstated. Her startlingly imaginative and daring fiction influenced an entire generation of writers. With The Left Hand of Darkness, she created not only one of science fiction’s most thought-provoking reads, but also one of the all-time great tragic and forbidden romances. The novel is set on a planet whose inhabitants are androgynous and is a brilliant examination – and upending – of conventional gender norms. Near its center is the love story between Therem Harth rem ir Estraven and his sibling, Arek Harth rem ir Estraven. The relationship underpins the entirety of Estraven’s story arc and Le Guin reveals the devastating, touching details of their relationship with a deft and empathetic hand.

SFF BFFs: The Best Friendships in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Love between friends holds a lot of meanings, and devoted companions can be found in many of the stories and adventures readers hold closest to their hearts. Here are some of our favorite friendships from science fiction and fantasy – you can share some of your own favorite friends in the comments.

The cover of the book The Fellowship of the RingThe Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R. TOLKIEN
Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took are two of Frodo’s cousins who join his quest to destroy the One Ring. Friendship is one of the reasons the hobbits join the Fellowship of the Ring in the first place, and Merry and Pippin’s friendship is especially close, both before the story begins as well as throughout the trilogy. They balance one another out, which comes in handy quite a bit over the course of their adventure, and the way they care about each other and the rest of their friends makes them one of the best BFF pairs in fantasy.

 

The cover of the book RadiantRadiant
KARINA SUMNER-SMITH
Magicless Xhea scrounges up a semblance of a living in the City, where magic abounds, by carrying the burden of others’ ghosts – for a price. And one of the ghosts she takes on is Shai, who generates so much magical power that she’s used as fuel. Together, the girls could stop a war or become a terrible weapon, but their loyalty to one another may be their greatest strength.

 

 

The cover of the book Swords and DeviltrySwords and Deviltry
FRITZ LEIBER
Gigantic Fafhrd and small Mouser make for an odd couple, but the protagonists of Fritz Leiber’s classic sword-and-sorcery stories are the closest of friends. Both also tend to have attitudes almost directly opposite of their own natures: Fafhrd talks like a romantic despite his pragmatism, and while Mouser talks like a cynic, he’s got his own streak of sentimentality. The two adventurers travel a long road together – they appear in dozens of Leiber’s stories – but one thing remains constant: their enduring friendship.

 

The cover of the book Sandry's Book (Circle of Magic)Sandry’s Book (Circle of Magic)
TAMORA PIERCE
An orphaned noble, the exiled daughter of a merchant family, a Trader cast out as cursed, and a talented pickpocket – Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar, the four protagonists of Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic novels, couldn’t be more different when they walk into Discipline, the cottage where they’ll live as they learn to control their magic. But they soon become entwined, both in their friendships and their magic, and the relationship between them endures the tests of plague, war, and the slow dissolution of childhood bonds as they grow into adulthood.

 

The cover of the book FalloutFallout
GWENDA BOND
When Lois Lane first moves to Metropolis, she joins the student journalist program at the Daily Planet with a few other kids from her new school – including Maddy, a budding journalist who wears a different band tee every day and doesn’t shy away from any of the mishaps—er, adventures—Lois gets herself into. For an Army brat like Lois, it’s the first real friendship she’s ever had, and the loyalty between the two is one of the best parts of Gwenda Bond’s young adult adaptation.

 

The cover of the book The Lies of Locke LamoraThe Lies of Locke Lamora
SCOTT LYNCH
In the criminal underworld of Camorr, the Gentleman Bastards are a group of elite con artists led by Locke Lamora, a clever and daring smooth-talker whose unlikely best friend is Jean Tannen, a soft-spoken man whose temper has a deadly reputation.

 

 

 

The cover of the book Sailor Moon 1Sailor Moon 1
NAOKO TAKEUCHI
Usagi Tsukino is extremely average – except for the whole thing where she becomes magical guardian Sailor Moon whenever evil threatens her city. Though at first she starts off fighting evil alone, she’s soon joined by four other Sailor Scouts – Ami, Rei, Makoto, and Minako – who become her closest friends. Or maybe “become” isn’t the best word: their friendship is so strong, it’s carried them together through reincarnation.

 

The cover of the book Fool's AssassinFool’s Assassin
ROBIN HOBB
An illegitimately-born assassin and a court jester who might be a prophet are either the strangest pair of friends or the perfect pair of friends. In Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings novels, assassin FitzChivalry Farseer and the jester known only as the Fool are the latter. While the Fool’s riddles can sometimes frustrate Fitz, he still thinks of the Fool as one of his closest friends, and the Fool admits his love for Fitz has no bounds. Fitz and the Fool are friends who’d risk it all to save one another – and they do many times throughout their lives.

 

The cover of the book UprootedUprooted
NAOMI NOVIK
Every ten years, a wizard called the Dragon takes a young woman from Agnieszka and Kasia’s village, and everyone knows Kasia will be the next to be taken. Beautiful, brave, talented Kasia, not clumsy Agnieszka who can’t walk ten feet without getting dirty. But the Dragon takes Agnieszka because of her latent magic, and Agnieszka is determined to use her power to save Kasia when her life is endangered.