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5 Great Stories Wherein The Characters Are Horrible People

by Taylor Coil

I've noticed something about myself recently, and it's quite troubling: I love reading books wherein the characters are horrible people.

Truly terrible human beings. Umbridge level horrible. Okay, maybe not Umbridge level horrible, but you get the idea.

THE WORST. (image via fanpop.com)

THE WORST. (image via fanpop.com)

If a character is a terrible human, there's probably a reason for it. Their backstory is likely filled with tragedy, or abuse, or something that makes you say 'oh yeah, I get it.' Let's get that disclaimer out of the way.

I think there are a few core reasons for this fascination with characters I don't respect. Part of it ignites a sense of self-righteousness, which I hardly ever indulge. Judging a fictional character is better than judging a real human, right? I think so.

The bigger portion, however, is that it's a form of escapism. I don't have to like a character to be fascinated with that person. I'm interested in their motivations, their goals, their justifications for their actions. It's instructive for me, in a way. And it keeps me turning the page.

Here are my recent favorite stories featuring some uh... 'flawed' humans (in no particular order):


5. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling [book]

I get why this has such mixed reviews on Amazon: it doesn't read like Harry Potter (obviously), and I don't like any of the characters. Clearly, the latter doesn't bother me. There's real cruelty in this novel. And tons of negativity.

But the characters are REAL. You get to know them. You can really envision them. You understand their cruelty, as much as one can understand such a thing. 

I'm disgusted by Simon. My heart aches for Krystal, but then she does something that annoys me, which makes me re-think the heartache. I'll leave it there, because I don't want to write a long-winded review of the book. Basically: everyone is flawed and it's beautiful.

I'm reading this now. I haven't finished it yet, so don't tell me what happens.


4. True Detective [tv show]

True Detective is an HBO Show - and we all know what that means. If you aren't OK with things like swearing and nudity, this is not the show for you.

True Detective is chock full of horrible deeds: you've got your unforgivables like murder and torture, and then the still-awful-but-not-nauseating adultery and general meanness. The protagonists aren't terrible people, but they are NOT saints. They're flawed. I wouldn't seek out their company. And yet I did - by binge-watching the show with my husband for nights on end.

When True Detective explores the concept of evil, it does so perfectly. I, for one, felt the story in my very bones as I was watching the most horrifying scenes. It's visceral and powerful. It's not a pleasure to watch something that evil, but it's something.


3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn [book]

Gone Girl is the reason I thought to write this post in the first place, since the trailer just came out. I love this novel, but it took me a while to pinpoint why it had a special place on my shelf (when my other thrillers are shoved in an armoire out of sight).

[spoilers below]

It's the characters. Nick and Amy Dunne are so cruel to one another. My own marriage is nothing like that, so I found myself reading in fascination on how two people can love with so much hate. How Amy can spend years planning an elaborately cruel trick on her husband, all the while keeping up a chipper facade.

Okay, so maybe it's not love, but it's certainly respect. 

I'm going to be in the minority here and say that I really liked the ending. I found it satisfying and apropos for the character arcs. Nick and Amy deserve each other.


2. Prisoners [movie]

I watched this movie at night against by better judgement. Crime dramas about people kidnapping children or serial killers or rapists etc etc always give me nightmares.

Yep, this one definitely gave me nightmares.

Prisoners made the cut because of Hugh Jackman's character, Keller. He tortures a man - someone the viewer knows doesn't deserve it. I felt no sense of justice, but somehow I understood. And I walked away from the film sympathizing with Keller.

If you like crime thrillers with imperfect characters (to put it lightly), you'll like this one. To me it had the same feel as Silence of the Lambs (which also gave me nightmares, and is free to watch for Amazon Prime members).


1. Game of Thrones [books and tv show]

Of course I was going to include Game of Thrones in this. Game of Thrones has possibly the best example of an imperfect protagonist, a few times over. I hated Tyrion and Jamie at the start of the series, but I find myself rooting for them both as the story progresses. Stanis drives me nuts, but there's something heart-wrenching about his desperation.

Actually, the only character who bores me a bit is Jon Snow (my husband's favorite character). He's a good guy - but he's a brooding good guy. Evil mastermind is far more interesting than brooding hero. I'd much rather watch Cersei's evil schemes or Arya's drive any day.

I haven't read the books, and my husband has. Perhaps Jon Snow is more interesting in the books. Tell me in the comments if that's the case!


I'm now re-thinking my (admittedly hyperbole-ridden) title. Yes, some of the characters are horrible human beings, but 'inherently flawed' is more correct. I don't think Nick Dunne or Jamie Lannister are horrible people. They do cruel things, yes, but does that mean they're cruel people?

At what point do cruel deeds result in a cruel person? What do you think?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

The Gone Girl Trailer is Here!

by Taylor Coil

The long-awaited (by me) trailer for GONE GIRL is here! Watch the embedded video below:

We've heard tell that Gillian Flynn changed the ending for the movie adaptation. If you've read the book, you'll still be in for a surprise at the end.

I, for one, am really excited to see this film. I absolutely loved the book, and will watch anything with Rosamund Pike or Ben Affleck in it. Except Gigli. I refuse to watch that movie.

Haven't read the book yet? Make sure you do before the movie comes out!

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About the Author

Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

10 Books Your Child Should Read Before College (from a teacher)

by MaryBeth Crissman

As a veteran middle-school teacher, the number one question I always get from parents is, "What book recommendations do you have for my child?" The question, despite being asked multiple times per year, always seems to catch me off guard. It seems like an easy enough question, but I tend to over think it and struggle for the one perfect book. So, this year, in preparation for the question that always comes up as the school year starts to ease down it's downhill slope, I've racked my own brain and then surveyed my colleagues about what the ONE BOOK they'd want their students/children to read. And, of course, there isn't just one book. There's never just one book.  


Elementary Grades (K-5)

Books at this age should focus primarily on developing a sense of wonder and imagination while fostering an enjoyment for reading. Many of the best books at this age are focused on magic and myth encapsulated in a beautifully woven story. While children at this age are often too young to read the following books alone, they are ideal read-aloud books for a family, strengthening the sense of family community and creating fond childhood memories and traditions. Children who are read to regularly develop stronger literacy skills as well as a greater appreciation of reading. 

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis 

I first read this book as an adult, and I wished that I had read it (or it had been read to me) when I was much younger. The magic and wonder and imagination engages young listeners, making them want to read those words, to delve into those stories.  This is what we teachers call a "gateway book." Once kids read these books, they will search out other interesting stories.

Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling 

Much like the previously mentioned title, this title employs magic and wonder to captivate young readers while the characters are working through the very same issues that children are - friendship conflicts, identity struggles, teacher-student clashes - as well as greater world issues of good vs. evil and understanding the way (and the why) the world works.  

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle 

It is one of those books that is spun like a spider’s web, delicate and strong at the same time- timeless. The characters' quest takes them on a mysterious journey that pushes the boundaries  of what children understand to be true about their world, and invites them to ask questions. 


Middle Grades (6-8)

Books for the middle grades should work to develop a child's understanding of their world, however small their world may be, while still engaging their imagination and sense of wonder. These books start to emphasize life lessons and humanity. The elements of magic may be less present or obvious, but myth is still often at play in these ideal books. 

The Lord of the Flies - William Golding 

You may have read this book when you were in school, and many schools are still using it as a classroom text. There's a really good reason why. Aside from being well written and designed, this book speaks to our human condition - power, responsibility, friendship , betrayal, survival, regrets, anger, shame.  Despite the characters' young ages, these are all issues that middle school students either struggle with now or will struggle with in their near futures. Even though the book focuses on male characters, the big ideas and lessons are easily transferred to other genders as well.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee 

Some of the biggest lessons in this classic are being compassionate towards others and having the moral courage to stand up for what is right.  Harper Lee's solitary work is truly an American masterpiece and evokes emotion in a way that many other texts fail to. Given the specific and small scope of the story, some contextual background, historic perspective, and reader maturity is necessary to fully understand and appreciate it. The lessons about moral courage, acceptance, and truth are ideal for developing teens. 

Wonder - R. J. Palacio 

This is one of the most unique and profoundly moving novels I have encountered as a middle school teacher. Through multiple narrators and perspectives, this story tells the tale of a young boy with a significant facial deformity who makes the hard decision to begin attending school after a life of homeschooling. As we experience his first year of school along side him, we witness the compassion and cruelty, love and jealousy, acceptance and fear that the protagonist experiences every day. You and your children won't be the same, nor view the world and it's people the same, after reading this. 

Tales from Outer Suburbia - Shaun Tan

This outstanding collection of short stories, poems, and sketches explores the imagination of the protagonist. It's like a grown up Shel Silverstein that your child will truly enjoy and cherish. This book can also open the world of graphic novels to more reluctant readers. 


Upper Grades (9-college)

Books for students of this age are generally self-selected based on previously established preferences. Trying to get them to branch out into new genres and topics can often be challenging, but it is worthwhile. The most important thing about reading at this age is that children are both rebelling and conforming, and they need books that will help them navigate that experiences. The more they can experience - either in actuality or vicariously through literature - the better. 

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez 

This book's epic scope evokes not just a multitude of characters, from multiple generations, but an entire continent. Over a span of 100 years, the characters within the pages experience the full range of human experience, and emphasizes how similar we all are, rather than how different. It’s funny and deeply humane without ever succumbing to sentimentality. 

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

Don't be scared off by the thick and heavy classics. This classic novel, aside from being expertly crafted, teaches great lessons about love and human relationships. The characters, all ravaged by war and conflict, must learn to adapt and survive. And who doesn’t love an anti-hero who makes the ultimate self-sacrifice for love?  

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

This coming-of-age tale has an authentic teenage voice and broaches topics that are often ignored in young adult fiction. Alexie's narrator has a unique perspective that illuminates a life that many students are unaware of and don't understand. It's a more mature story that helps students vicariously work through many of the dilemmas and issues that they and their peers are facing. 


These are definitely not the ONLY books your child should read! The more your child reads, the more they will understand about the world. And the more they understand about the world, the more they will question and develop their own thoughts and opinions. 

Please note: As with any book recommendation, please review each book prior to sharing it with your child to ensure that it is at an appropriate reading level and contains appropriate content for your child. 

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About the Author

MaryBeth is a dog-mom, teacher, and amateur archer. When she's not throwing tennis balls for her dogs or sending arrows downrange towards a bullseye, she can be found nestled up with a good biography or historical fiction novel, sipping a cup of a tea. She's exactly what you expect of an English teacher, except for bows and arrows. 

Q and A a Day: A Journal for Adults [Review]

by Taylor Coil

I found my journal from high school last week. Wow, is it packed with cringe-worthy paragraphs. Pages and pages of Taylor [insert last name of boy here] in loopy cursive and painstakingly-copied AIM messages from crushes I had forgotten about.

Hey, 16-year-old-self: you married none of those boys, and you kept your last name.

Anyway.

There's plenty of blank space left at the end of this uh... masterpiece. So I started writing in it again. I think, however, that it feels fundamentally strange to keep writing in a journal started by a version of yourself that is wholly different from the current version of you. It's like a series that needs to be broken into installments.

So I bought new journal, something I haven't purchased in a very long time. This time I'm not going for soliloquies on the complications of kissing in the backseat of a '68 Firebird without anyone noticing. I'm going for a time capsule that I can read ten years from now and remember who I was in my twenties (with hopefully less disdain than the aforementioned situation).

Enter The Q&A A Day 5 Year Journal.

This pint-sized journal gives you a one-question prompt every day - and you watch how your answers change over five years. I think it's brilliant.

When this arrived on my front door, I dropped the groceries (literally - I broke a couple of eggs) and was all-too eager to jot down answers for every day this week. MAN, it's fun.

I even showed it to my husband. Something that definitely won't happen with my high school journal.

This one gets the Taylor stamp of love. If you're looking for a new journal, this one is quite affordable ($10) and truly enjoyable to use.

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About the Author

Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

St Patrick's Day Cooking with Freebooksy

by MaryBeth Crissman

My mother always says that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who eat to live and those who live to eat. I am the latter. This would explain why my most favorite holidays in the calendar are Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, St. Patrick's Day. They are foodie celebrations. Yes, they have significant cultural / religious importance, but the bulk of the actual celebrating is often around a family table with food and drink and laughter flowing freely.  

My favorite part of celebrating St. Patrick's Day is the baking and preparations that lead up to the day. The eating is wonderful of course, but preparing the bread to be broken and the stews to be spooned and the whisky to be poured for loved ones is the true joy in the day. I'm somewhat adventurous in the kitchen, so I often try new things to bring variety to the table, but there are certainly staples that are present every year. Some are indulgent and some are traditional, but all combined make the celebration complete. 

 

My favorite "Irish" recipe isn't Irish at all, but, rather, Irish-inspired. Irish Car Bomb Brownies. Mmmmmmm ... Honestly, the only thing Irish about it is the alcohol that goes into it (Guinness, Baileys, and whisky), but these brownies are so delicious that even the most critical Irish palate will approve. I stumbled upon this recipe a few years back on A Spicy Perspective's blog, and they were an overwhelmingly huge hit! They are definitely ADULT brownies, so you may need to whip up a batch of out-of-the-box brownies to make the kiddos happy as well. But, a word to the wise: Eat in moderation. They pack a sneaky little punch!

Another favorite "Irish" recipe is my momma's shepherd's pie. (The exact heritage of this dish is often debated. Some say English, some say Irish. And, while they are distinctly different cultures, they do share  some characteristics. I'm sticking with Irish since that's what I grew up thinking.) Growing up, we ate this all the time, especially in the winter. It's a meal-in-a-dish, and it's inexpensive. Life in a family of five is often lived on a budget (ours certainly was!), and potatoes, meat, and corn make a pretty inexpensive meal. Now, as a grown woman, I love the flavor memories that this simple meal brings back to me. I've changed the recipe ever-so-slightly, but it still has the same delicious and hearty flavor. 


Recipe: Momma's Shepherd's Pie

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef (I've also used ground buffalo, and it was delicious!)
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1-2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (chopped carrots, corn, peas)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 lbs russet potatoes (3 big ones)
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice

STEPS

  1. Peel and quarter potatoes, boil in salted water until tender (about 20 minutes).
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, melt 4 Tablespoons butter (1/2 a stick) in large frying pan.
  3. Sauté onions in butter until tender over medium heat (10 mins). 
  4. Add ground beef and sauté until no longer pink. Add Worcestershire sauce. Optional: Add salt and pepper. Add half a cup of beef broth and cook, uncovered, over low heat for 10 minutes, adding more beef broth as necessary to keep moist.
  5. Cook frozen vegetables in the microwave or on the stovetop in a separate pan from the meat. Remove from heat when almost done. (You can use fresh veggies here, but the frozen mix is so easy!)
  6. Mash potatoes in bowl with remainder of butter, season to taste.
  7. Place vegetables on the bottom of a baking dish. Add the beef and onions. Do not mix. Spread mashed potatoes on top. Rough up with a fork so that there are peaks that will brown nicely. You can use the fork to make some designs in the potatoes as well.
  8. Cook in 400 degree oven until bubbling and brown (about 30 minutes). Broil for last few minutes if necessary to brown.

My mouth is already watering at the thought of enjoying my St. Patrick's Day dinner … and dessert! 

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh! (St. Patrick’s Day blessings on you!)

(Want to impress your friends with that Gaelic blessing? Pronounce it this way: Ban-ick-tee na fay-lah pwad-rig or-iv)


Mouth watering? Want to add some Irish dishes to your repertoire? Here are two of our favorite Irish cookbooks:

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About the Author

MaryBeth is a dog-mom, teacher, and amateur archer. When she's not throwing tennis balls for her dogs or sending arrows downrange towards a bullseye, she can be found nestled up with a good biography or historical fiction novel, sipping a cup of a tea. She's exactly what you expect of an English teacher, except for bows and arrows. 

Into the Wild — 5 Mystery Series that Transport You to Remote Locales

By S.W. Hubbard

Is life on your suburban cul-de-sac a little too tame?  Are the walls of your apartment closing in on you?  Time to take a journey into the wild and explore the boundaries where polite civilization meets the extremes of nature.  These remote locales inspire particularly baffling mysteries—bizarre crimes, desperate motivations, and quirky suspects.  And the rugged terrain produces wily detectives—both amateur and professional.


1. Steve Hamilton’s Upper Peninsula Series

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is cut off from the rest of the state, and the rest of civilization.  With so many trees and so few towns, it’s a great place to hide out from enemies, or hide a body.  Alex McKnight, a former Detroit cop, now a private investigator in Paradise, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Superior, tangles with some very bad dudes and always comes out bruised but triumphant.


2. Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic Series

Key West is the southernmost point in the Continental United States. Every hurricane cuts the island off from the mainland.  Wild chickens and six-toed cats patrol the streets. No wonder this little paradise has a reputation for wackiness!  Burdette’s plucky amateur sleuth, Haley Snow, juggles fine dining and astute crime solving with flair.


3. Erin Hart’s Irish Bog Series

Cormac Maguire, an Irish archaeologist, and Nora Gavin, an American pathologist team up to solve crimes that all revolve around Ireland’s lonely, atmospheric peat bogs.  The unique chemistry of a bog perfectly preserves archeological treasures—as well as murdered bodies, old and new.


4. Margaret Coel’s Wind River Reservation, Wyoming Series

Travel to the western frontier with John Aloysius O’Malley, a Jesuit missionary, and Vicky Holden, an Arapaho attorney, as they solve crimes together on the Arapaho reservation. Margaret Coel interweaves authentic Native American culture and history with modern-day suspense.


5. S.W. Hubbard’s Adirondack Mountain Series

Police Chief Frank Bennett, a transplanted Midwesterner, patrols the seemingly idyllic village streets and country roads of Trout Run, NY.  But murder and dark secrets prowl the majestic High Peaks just as surely as bear and moose, and Frank often finds himself in conflict with the rugged Adirondack natives as he ensures justice is done.


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About the Author

S.W. Hubbard’s most recent novel is Another Man’s Treasure. She is also is the author of three mystery novels set in the Adirondack Mountains: Take the Bait, Swallow the Hook, and Blood Knot, and the Frank Bennett short story collection, Dead Drift.  Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and the anthologies Crimes by Moonlight, The Mystery Box, and Adirondack Mysteries. She lives in Morristown, NJ, where she teaches creative writing to enthusiastic teens and adults, and expository writing to reluctant college freshmen.  To read the first chapter of any of her books, visit:  http://www.swhubbard.net

2014 Oscars: Two Movies that Weren't Books (but would make awesome ones)

By Taylor Coil

Perhaps it's because I loved books first. Perhaps it's because so many of my favorite books were turned into movies. Whatever the reason, I tend to assume that great movies are based on books - something that I realize is truly unfair to screenwriters.

I'm sorry, screenwriters. I know I'm biased towards books.

Anyway, my husband and I try to watch as many Oscar-nominated films before the Oscars happen every year. It makes the Oscars far more fun to watch, especially when you're rooting for your favorites. My husband's the movie buff - I tag along, knowing almost nothing about the films before watching.

So sometimes I'm surprised by what's an original screenplay and what's based on a book. That happened this year, with the following two Oscar-nominated films.


1. Blue Jasmine.

I LOVED this movie. Before Blue Jasmine, I'd never seen a Woody Allen movie in my life. I mostly associated Woody Allen with those glasses and Connor, that one character in a Sophie Kinsella book who is obsessed with his movies. Man, I'm really revealing my Kinsella obsession in this blog.

Anyway. Blue Jasmine isn't a book (it's an original screenplay) - but it 'watches' like one. You know, like how a Vince Flynn book reads like an action movie? Blue Jasmine watches like a literary fiction novel. The characters are beautifully developed, the plot teased out carefully, all to come together in a true work of art.

If Blue Jasmine were a book, I'd read it. And if you haven't seen the movie, it's really worth watching.


2. Her.

Doesn't Her sound like the plot of a dystopian novel? A man who falls in love with an artificially intelligent computer operating system sounds like something that would fit right in with today's SciFi novels.

The thing is, though, it's not really SciFi. This technology isn't extraordinarily far-fetched or inconceivable. It's far more a love story than a high-tech scifi. Watch the trailer, you'll see what I mean.

Regardless, this plot is deep. It makes you think. It's social commentary. It's gives me everything I love about reading, but from a film.


Which were your Oscar favorites this year? Would you read Blue Jasmine / Her, had they been books before they were movies?

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About the Author

Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

4 Reasons a Book Vacation is Better Than A Regular Vacation

by Cathy Bryant

Vacation.

Is there any word in the English language that inspires more yearning in our hearts? (Well, except for ice cream.) And is there any vacation where we don't return a week behind at both work and home and with holes in our pocketbooks from overspending? Even worse, we're exhausted. Sheesh, we almost need another week of vacation to recuperate from the first one.

I have the perfect solution, especially in this economy. A book vacation! 

Here's why:


1. You can take a book with you anywhere. 

kindle by pool.JPG

Need some sun so you can go back to work with a tan? Take a quilt and your book to the park and read all day. At the very least you'll go back to work with a decent sunburn. If all else fails, use the money you saved by staying home to buy a tanning lamp. Seriously. Who's gonna know?

And if tanning's not your thing, find a place to visit that's close to where you live. Take your book, a picnic lunch, and the closest thing to a cabana boy you can find. Sounds pretty dreamy to me.

Want a relaxing read in an ocean-like setting? Turn on the sound machine, fill the tub with lukewarm water and Epsom salts, and dive in with a good book. See? You really can take a book anywhere.


2. You can go anywhere with a book. 

couple reading.png

Hang with me a sec. I know this sounds suspiciously the same as number one, but it's not. The point here is that books are modes of transportation and time machines. You can travel anywhere you want in any time period you want and meet some stranger-than-fiction people while you're at it--all without jet lag. How awesome is that?

Want to visit France and travel back to the 1800s? Pick up a copy of Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. Want to go on a cruise without fifty million narcissistic and noisy people in too-tiny swimsuits? Melville's Moby Dick might do the trick. How about a trip to an exotic land with a free excursion to view really short people? Either Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz will get you there. (I could go on, but surely by now you get the point.


3. Oh, the things you can learn! 

tween boy reading square.png

Rather than go to Italy, why not learn to speak Italian or make sun-dried tomato and basil bruschetta that's to die for? Rather than Disneyworld, why not hang out at your local jungle gym and read a biography of Walt Disney? And maybe this is just me, but I'd much rather digest facts about animals of the Serengeti in the comfort of my recliner than have those same animals digest me on a dry and dusty African safari.


4. More cash and less aspirin. 

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 11.53.30 AM.png

If you opt in favor of this book vacation, you will love these last two benefits. When all is said and done, this excellent choice will leave you with less of a headache than all the planning, rushing, spending, and rushing back that you have with a regular vacation. In addition, your pocketbook will be padded with all the dollars you saved. And with all that extra money hanging around, you can always buy more books!


About the Author

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 11.54.38 AM.png

Cathy Bryant loves to spin tales around the fictional hamlet of Miller's Creek, Texas, where folks are friendly, iced tea is sweet, and Mama Beth's front porch beckons. When she's not writing, you'll find Cathy feeding her reality TV addiction, rummaging through thrift stores, or up to her elbows in yet another home improvement project. The fifth book in the Miller's Creek Novels, A Bridge Unbroken, is scheduled to release Spring 2014. You can find out more about Cathy and her books at http://www.CatBryant.com.

Cathy's Books:

 

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The Night Circus – A Book Made for the Big Screen

A Review by Tracy Falbe


With much anticipation I opened The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern when I received it as a gift from my brother. The premise was unique. Set in the late 19th century, two magicians Celia and Marco compete in the magical arena of the Night Circus. The venue comes and goes from towns without notice. Its black and white tents house impossible wonders that delight visitors. And the circus is only open from dusk until dawn.

Celia and Marco are the protégés of two older rivals, Prospero the Enchanter, Celia’s unpleasant father, and another referred to mysteriously as the man in the grey suit, who trained Marco. These heartless elders duel through Celia and Marco within the circus that has been set up for a death match. The magical underpinnings of the circus rely on this death match. When Celia and Marco fall in love instead of the required hate, the system becomes dangerously askew for all involved.

Morgenstern crafts each vivid performance and exhibit in The Night Circus with graceful and nuanced detail. The mirrors, the ice sculptures, the chiming of a clock, the flicker of a flame, and every visual note of the prose are lovingly massaged into the brain of the reader. Only a few chapters into the novel I thought, “Is this book meant to be a movie?” To imagine The Night Circus is to see it as a movie in your mind.

Not long after reading it I heard that it was going to be a movie. The film rights were optioned by Summit Entertainment and the movie is in development, according to IMDb.

The potential for The Night Circus to make a splendid movie is very high. I believe that it could make a better movie than book because the novel has some shortcomings. The characters failed to summon much feeling in me. I initially had some sympathy for Celia but it faded. She was a sweet, responsible, and talented woman but I never felt more than perfunctory curiosity about her. Marco was tiresome as a male romantic lead. I’ll admit I’m more the swashbuckler type, so I mostly found him dull and lacking in charm.

The story dragged and by the time it reached something important I just kind of shrugged. I experienced the sacrifices and intense moments at the climax as things that I just wanted to get over with.

The reviews at Goodreads cut two ways on The Night Circus. About half gush with praise for the marvelous writing and the fresh concept. The other half reflects my sentiments. The story lacked real spirit and took too long. To me it was all flash and no bang. I’m reminded of gorgeous commercial roses that have very little scent. They look good but just can’t compare to the sun-warmed aroma of a home grown rose, which is what I wanted The Night Circus to be.

I can still hope the movie will be an improvement. Morgenstern has imagined something that could be spectacular. The right director and actors might be able to infuse some soul into the characters and add chemistry to the romantic partners.

Although I was mildly disappointed by The Night Circus I still declare it a good book. Many others have enjoyed it, and I greatly admire the writing skill of the author. Her artistry is admirable. She arranged a complex web of players into a perfect spider web sparkling with dew. She connected strands of nonlinear storytelling with ease. She made me see every detail of the circus like I was in the moment. The novel comes across like a dream, which endows The Night Circus with a good measure of success. 


About the Author

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Tracy Falbe has devoted herself to writing fantasy novels for many years. She has published nine of them and has a tenth on the way. Her first one, Union of Renegades, is a free book and has lured many readers into magical realms of adventure.

Read more about Tracy at Brave Luck Books: http://www.braveluck.com

Tracy's Books:

 

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Ten Awesome Books That You Probably Haven't Read

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By: Chloe Kizer

So we have a love (and minor obsession with) all things Vlogbrothers over here at Freebooksy. John Green’s most recent video was 18 Great Books that You Probably Haven’t Read. Not only do we love his recommendations, but we love the idea of promoting little known books. So, without further adieu here is our list of 10 awesome books that you probably haven’t heard of but should totally read.

Kings and Queens of Roam by Daniel Wallace:

You may have heard of Big Fish, or seen the movie, but Daniel Wallace is a phenomenal author of literary fiction and you should read his books, especially his newest: Kings and Queens of Roam. It also doesn’t hurt that he is from our home town and a professor at the University that Taylor and I attended. 

Phone Kitten by Marika Christian:

Oh man. We love this book. LOVE IT. If you want to stay up all night turning the pages and howling with laughter,  then this should totally be your next book. 

 Devices and Desires by K. J. Parker:

This is the most engaging fantasy series that I have picked up in a very long time. The main theme is love and the crazy, whacky things that it makes us do. But not in a romance way, more like in a tragic medieval epic kind of way, which makes for a wonderful work of indulgent fiction.

Insignia by S. J. Kincaid: 

All other YA Sci Fi books try  to be this good.... and might come close. The gaming motifs and tech-y universe will suck you in and refuse to let go. 

Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Ben Constable:

This book will wrap your mind into knots. Contemporary Magical Realism at some of its best, this novel will take you from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Dark Underground of Paris all while weaving the cryptic and tragic tale of a woman with too much pain to bear.

Hanging Flynn (A Tale of the Fairypocalypse) by  Addison Lane:

Another fantasy, Hanging Flynn is a story that mixes apocalyptic dystopian with myth, legend, and folklore in a way that keeps the reader flipping the pages. I read it in 2 days, talk about a page turner.

Love in the Falls by Rachel Hanna:

This book is totally our guilty pleasure. This sweet love story is kind of like watching The Notebook, you gotta do it every once and a while for the feels. PS: It's the perfect beach read.

Hild by Nicola Griffith:

Avid readers of historical fiction cannot let this phenomenal read pass them by. Tudor England? Been there done that: Hild takes the reader all the way back to the early Middle Ages, to the time when a multitude of individual small kingdoms were fighting, intermarrying, and caught up in dizzying knots of honor and intrigue after the withdrawal of the Romans from the British Isles. 

Marry Me Maddie by Rita Herron 

This book reminds us of There is Something About Mary (without the "hair gel"). It will consume you with side splitting laughter and make you wish that your own proposal had been this hilarious! 

Dead is the New Black by Christine DeMaio-Rice: 

Fans of Project Runway and The Devil Wears Prada will lost in the mystery that is Dead is the New Black. If you've always dreamed of working in the fashion industry and love mystery novels, then this is the book for you. 

Oh, and here is the Vlogbrothers video, because it's a great list of reads from a multitude of genres. 

 
 

About the Author 

Chloe is our content and community manager. She has three hobbies: Reading, writing, and finding new hobbies. Her brain can be best described as an extremely biased encyclopedia of all things nerdy. 

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'The Art Assignment' is Brilliant

By Taylor Coil

The Art Assignment is Sarah Urist Green and John Green's new project with PBS. The premise: every week, you'll be given an assignment. And it'll challenge your idea of what art is.

Here's the first assignment:

Since book lovers are, by nature, art lovers (books are a type of art!), we figured that you may want to know about this great new series.

Sidebar: anybody want to complete the first assignment with us? We're in the RDU area in North Carolina, so hit us up if you are as well (HI NEIGHBORS) and want to complete this challenge. Tell us in the comments!

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About the Author

Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

Freebooksy & The North Carolina Literary Festival

By Taylor Coil

This year, Freebooksy is a (very) proud sponsor of the NC Literary Festival. I'm personally excited about this, because North Carolina is near and dear to my heart. I'm a Tar Heel born, a Tar Heel bred... you know how the song goes. At least, if you're from North Carolina, you do.

Warning: I'm about to get a little bit sappy about my home. If you have no interest in The Old North State, you may want to stop reading (and also whatever, NC is awesome).

For me, my childhood memories of books are completely associated with North Carolina landmarks. When I think of reading as a child, I think of the bookmobile that the Chapel Hill Public Library used to have. I think of stuffing my well-worn copy of Bloomability into my backpack and climbing to the top of our magnolia tree to read. I think of trudging through the woods to Eastwood Lake and diving into The Face on the Milk Carton for the umpteenth time. 

I remember where I was when I read each of my favorite books. And more often than not, it's NC. I'll demonstrate.

The point of this long-winded reminiscence: North Carolina's beauty and memories of reading go hand in hand for me. Some of my favorite memories of my home state are tied to what I was reading at that time. Perhaps it's because I love to read outside. Or perhaps it's because I just love to read.

North Carolina, I love you. And I love that we'll be at the NC Literary Festival.

If you're in North Carolina, come by the NC Literary Festival! We'd love to meet you. I'll be the one in the Freebooksy shirt who looks like the person in the below picture.

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About the Author

Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

The Olympics are Here and We're Excited

By Taylor Coil

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I love the Olympics. Particularly the Winter Olympics.

When I was a kid, I loved the Olympics because of the glamour. Because of the celebrity. Because Tara Lipinski, Michelle Kwan, and Kristi Yamaguchi were kids themselves, and yet were watched by the world as they proved themselves to be the best of the best.

Clearly I grew up in the 90s. And clearly I was a fan of ice skating. Hey, I was a ballerina - it was the closest thing to what I knew.

When the winter Olympics came to Salt Lake in 2002, I even bought the official hat that Team USA wore (as evidenced by the picture to the left).

As an adult, I still love the Olympics. I love watching the world come together and compete in sports that I rarely see on television. I love seeing the joy in the face of the underdog as she wins a medal - probably something she's dreamed of her entire life.

And, I actually love the patriotism. The Olympics are the time in which I feel most proud to be an American. Proud of Lindsey Vonn, Hannah Kearney, Shaun White, Apolo Anton Ohno - people I'll never meet, but people who will stay in my mind long after they've stopped competing.

With that in mind, here are some books to keep you literary lovers in the Olympic spirit while you're reading over the next few weeks:



I'll close with a bit more serious quote, which Google highlighted on their homepage today (Feb 7, 2014):

"The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play." – Olympic Charter

Are you excited for the Olympics as well? Which events are your favorites?

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About the Author

Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

Reflections on Black History Month

By MaryBeth Crissman

Quote: Henry Louis Gates, Jr, 2002

Quote: Henry Louis Gates, Jr, 2002

I grew up in a small, rural town in Upstate New York. I love my hometown, but, looking back, I realize its limitations. In my elementary school, there were fewer than 10 people of color. The only Black family in town was a poor family who had lived on the same plot of land since the Great Migration. I remember sitting in my high school English classes, surrounded by a sea of white faces and being taught by adults with the same pigmentation. When February rolled around, our classes spent one day -- if any -- learning about important African Americans. The authors and history were taught in isolation with no authentic connection to the literature and history surrounding it. I remember thinking, "Why do we need to learn this?" I didn't see the purpose in learning about people who didn't live in my community or go to my school.

I eventually went off to college and my coursework was my first experience sitting alongside people with darker skin and reading literature by authors who more closely resembled my classmates than me. It was also the first time I experienced these authors outside of the month of February. My graduate studies were my first truly in-depth exploration into African-American literature and history. I felt myself falling in love with stories that were so completely foreign from my own. The brutally beautiful poetry of Langston Hughes, the terrifying yet determined life of Harriet Jacobs, the exquisitely tragic emotion of Zora Neale Hurston, the difficult and moving dialects of Sterling Brown… all of these authors poured their troubled souls out onto the page for me to absorb and experience. While I could never understand what it meant (or means) to be Black in America, their words gave me an insight and understanding that I had never known before.



 

Now, years removed from a diverse college experience and a predominately WASPy childhood, I truly understand the importance of Black History Month.  Because we, as a nation, aren't "there" yet. Because we need to make time to celebrate the cultures that, while marginalized, have made us who we are. Because, while our president is a Black man, there is still so much about Black history and culture that is unappreciated. So, when I honor Black History Month, it is not a celebration of "them." Black History Month is a celebration of US. Because all of Black History is OUR history.

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About the Author

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MaryBeth is a dog-mom, teacher, and amateur archer. When she's not throwing tennis balls for her dogs or sending arrows downrange towards a bullseye, she can be found nestled up with a good biography or historical fiction novel, sipping a cup of a tea. She's exactly what you expect of an English teacher, except for bows and arrows. 

Valentine's Day Gifts for Guys

By Taylor Coil

When you're married, Valentine's Day can be a funny thing. Personally, I went from the exhilaration of a Valentine's Day full of gift-giving and surprises (while dating my husband in my college years) to the following conversation, which happened the other day:

Me: "Oh right. Valentine's Day is soon."

Him: "When is it?"

Me: "The 14th."

Him: "You wanna do anything?"

Me: "Watch Justified."

I don't know about you, but my homebody-of-a-self would much rather spend Valentine's Day on the couch with Indian takeout watching Justified (IT'S SO GOOD - and free for Prime members) than at a restaurant.

That said, I do quite enjoy giving my husband gifts. Even just small little tokens. Here are some of my biased picks - because I think Valentine's gifts should be completely personal. There isn't a cookie-cutter gift guide that works for my husband (and maybe not for your SO either), but perhaps this will give you some ideas.

Babe, this is your cue to stop reading. I love you, but please go away.


A Homemade Scrapbook

I actually did this for my husband back when we were dating and had been together about a year. I'm a bit of a magpie by nature, and had kept mementos from our time together: Arctic Monkeys ticket stubs, a map from a weekend trip to DC, a page of notes with joint doodles from an art history course we took together. I took a small journal, added in all those mementos, and turned it into a little love book of our time together.

The thing is, I don't know that he'd appreciate a gift like this as much if I gave it to him now. I think this makes a great gift for a new-ish relationship that is still full of mystery.


A Shirt from His Favorite Book / Movie

My husband's favorite movie is Fantastic Mr. Fox. Great film based on a great book. His office also has 'T-Shirt Fridays,' wherein all employees wear funny tees to the office. He has thus amassed a collection of great shirts based on his favorite books and movies from Redbubble - a great place to find fun, original designs. This shirt would definitely get the thumbs up on T-Shirt Friday.


Google Chromecast

I married a gadget guy. Cords are the bane of my existence. They're everywhere.

His favorite gadget might be the Google Chromecast. The last time we used it was last night, when he was showing me sledding videos from his office - streaming them from the computer to our TV. Very cool. And also very affordable (it's $35). 


BookBook iPhone Case

I have the computer version of this case, and I get compliments on it all the time. If your gentleman is a literary guy (who also has an iPhone), this is such a great gift. It's a conversation starter every time he pulls out his phone, plus it's a great protector for people who drop things all the time.


What do you think of my picks? Fellas, chime in -- what gift would you like to receive on Valentine's Day?

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About the Author

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Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

Sensory Fiction: Books Meet Virtual Reality

By Chloe Kizer

Trust  the crazy smart kids up at MIT to come up with the first immersive book reading experience. Sensory Fiction is a book that is, literally, gripping. The reader wears a harness that has the ability to change temperature, simulate heart rate, and send vibrations that mimic shivering. In addition, lights around the screen provide ambient lighting depending on the "mood" of a given page. These nifty sensations are designed to make the reader feel the same way that the protagonist is feeling at that point in the story, both emotionally and environmentally. 

As an absurdly avid reader I find this idea to be particularly interesting. On one hand, I think that the idea of being plugged into a book could be fun and intriguing. I would be interested to see how the lighting and vibrations actually affect my own, inner reading experience. And at a mention of my own, inner experience, here is where I become confused by this gadget.

Good writing is evocative. A sign of a well written novel is that it makes you feel. When the protagonist is upset or scared or angry, if the author has done a good job, then the reader is connected to the character and feels his or her pain. I have been known (and I can't be the only one) to laugh out loud, feel absurdly giddy, become heart-racingly terrified, and yes, even cry while reading. I don't need dimming lights and a harness shaking me to feel what I'm reading (although my friends have been known to shake me in attempts to make me STOP feeling what I'm reading). For many, much of the joy of reading comes from escaping your physical body and immersing your consciousness in another word, something that Sensory Fiction is directly interfering with. So where does Sensory Fiction become necessary to a good reading experience? 

I think that this gadget has true promise if the creators make it it's own artform, supporting but tangental to the literature that is being read. If the sensations are designed with a larger purpose in mind, like, giving the reader conflicting signals in order to further strengthen the protagonists sense of denial or emotional confusion, then Sensory Fiction has drastic potential to change the reading world. In this way the sensations would become yet another layer of storytelling, instead of simply repeating what the book is already portraying. 

That said, I surely wouldn't turn down the opportunity to try it! 

Still curious? You can check out this article on The Guardian and the Original Post on MIT's Blog


About the Author 

Chloe is our content and community manager. She has three hobbies: Reading, writing, and finding new hobbies. She considers herself to be a jack of all trades, master of none, and this translates into her reading habits, made evident by the fact that she reads everything from graphic novels to literary classics. Her brain can be best described as an extremely biased encyclopedia of all things nerdy. 

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The Fault in Our Stars Trailer is Making Me Feel Things

By Taylor Coil

Confession: I haven't read The Fault in Our Stars yet. I'm kind of scared of the book, to be honest. MY father has beat cancer THREE TIMES (once before I was born), and cancer is one of my biggest fears in life. So I suppose it makes sense that I've avoided reading TFIOS .

But, after watching the trailer for the movie, I don't know if I want to avoid it anymore. Here it is:

Oh my goodness. I had chills within about five seconds. Yep, might be time to take a deep breath and read the book that everyone has been talking about forever.

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About the Author

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Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

5 Literary Funnies | January 2014

By Taylor Coil

Here are five things that are making us happy this month!


1. Rainn Wilson's Hobbit tweet is on point:


2. The Waterstones Oxford Street Twitter Feed!


3. Random House's book bingo.

How cool is that? Anybody interested in doing book bingo with us?

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4. Puns + (Free) Comics = <3

My love for puns can't be controlled.

Check out all of David Jones' work here: http://www.okracomics.com

Check out all of David Jones' work here: http://www.okracomics.com


5. Crash Course.

We're long-time fans of everything the Vlogbrothers touch, and Crash Course is a definite favorite. We recently re-discovered their Literature series, and it's the perfect thing to play while you're eating lunch at your desk. Lunch and learn!

What's making you happy lately? Tell us in the comments!


About the Author

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Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

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Books Set to Be Adapted Into Movies in 2013

By Taylor Coil

Obviously, we love to read.

We also love movies. When our favorite books get made into movies? That's awesome. Here are 10 books set to be made into movies in 2013 that we're excited about.

Vote for your favorite!


About the Author

san fran square2.jpg

Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.

Books are better when they're free. Sign up for our emails and get free books in your inbox!  SIGN UP NOW