Authors We Love: Lauren Oliver

I first read Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fallas an ARC (advance reader’s copy) way back in 2009. I enjoyed it and was pretty sure I had Lauren figured out as an author. She’d definitely stick with the YA age group, writing realistic teen fiction with an emotional twist. I looked forward to more.

And then she released her first middle grade novel and completely twisted my conception of her on its head! Surprise! She’s an author/shape shifter who just gets more and more compelling with each new release.

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Lauren Oliver

Born: Queens, NY

Genre: YA realism & dystopia, middle grade fantasy

Coming soon: paperback edition of The Spindlers (Aug. 2013); Panic (Spring 2014)

Before I FallHarperCollins; 9.99; Ages 12+; pub. Mar. 2010

Opening line: “They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that’s not how it happened for me.”

If I had a nickel for every time someone compared this book to the movie Groundhog Day, I’d have many, many nickels. It’s really more akin to a marriage between Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and the darker moments of Mean GirlsOliver weaves a beautiful story of redemption that is bittersweet and satisfying without conceding to a traditional “happy” ending.

Liesl & PoHarperCollins; 6.99; Ages 9+; pub. Oct. 2011

Opening line: “On the third night after the day her father died, Liesl saw the ghost.”

I was teary by the time I finished the forward of Oliver’s middle grade debut. Written shortly after the unexpected death of a dear friend, Liesl & Po exudes a deep connection between author and material. It feels like a treasured fairy tale and makes a terrific read-aloud. My favorite of her books so far.

The SpindlersHarperCollins; 16.99; Ages 9+; pub. Oct. 2012

Opening line: “One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not.”

Initially inspired by Maurice Sendak’s creepy and arresting Outside Over ThereSpindlers is the story of an intrepid sister who sets off on a grand adventure to save her brother. Liza descends into the hidden world beneath her parents’ basement (I’m reminded of Gaiman’s Neverwhere) to win back Patrick’s soul, which has been spirited away by spindlers, hideous spider-like creatures. It’s a quick read, and one I tore through in one sitting—I didn’t want to let it out of my clutches until I reached the (very satisfying) ending!

Delirium trilogy; HarperCollins; Ages 12+; pub. Aug. 2011

Opening line: “It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.”

Lauren Oliver does dystopia! Delirium, Pandemoniumand Requiem comprise Oliver’s imagining of a world where love is a crime. This series is well written, thoughtful, and far less “explodey” than teen dystopia tends to be, for which I give it lots of credit.

Come browse our shelves and flip through some of Lauren’s books! You’ll be under her spell in no time.

Read on, readers!

Miss Megan

Miss Megan’s Five Star Favorites, Part I

I’m a pretty critical reader. I guess that’s because I read a lot of things, so inevitably I start to feel a little jaded. But when a special book crosses my path, one that jolts me out of my stupor with its originality or voice or what have you, I get very excited.

For this reason, I love Goodreads. Not only can I keep track of what I’ve read, but I can organize books based on how I rated them. And at the tippy-top of the list is my handful of five star picks, the books that I think are just plain extraordinary.

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen; Candlewick Press; 15.99; Ages 3-adult

Opening line: “This hat is not mine. I just stole it.”

For fans of: I Want My Hat BackI’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean

Also, it’s this year’s Caldecott medalist.

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illus. by Adam RexHyperion (HarperCollins); 16.99; Ages 3-8

Opening line: “This is me, Mac. I’m the author of this book.”

For fans of: The Three PigsOh, No!: or How My Science Project Destroyed the World

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne M. ValenteSquare Fish (Macmillan); 6.99; Ages 9-adult

Opening line: “Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.”

For fans of: The Chronicles of NarniaAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Breadcrumbs by Anne UrsuHarperCollins; 6.99; Ages 9-adult

Opening line: “It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems.”

For fans of: Peter PanLiesl and Po

Okay for Now by Gary SchmidtClarion (Houghton Mifflin); 16.99; Ages 10-adult

Opening line: “Joe Pepitone once gave me his New York Yankees baseball cap. I’m not lying. He gave it to me. To me, Doug Swieteck. To me.”

For fans of: The Wednesday WarsAl Capone Does My Shirts

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy SchlitzCandlewick Press; 17.99; Ages 10-adult

Opening line: “The witch burned. She tossed in a sea of blankets, dizzy with heat. It was fever, not fire, that tormented her, fever and the nightmares that came with it.”

For fans of: Charles DickensCatherine, Called Birdy

And it’s a 2013 Newbery Honor Book!

Want to read more from any of these awesome titles? Call us and we’ll put them on hold! (703) 548-4092.

Read on, readers!

Miss Megan

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

This is quite possibly my #1 middle grade gift recommendation going into the holiday season. (Though I’ve got a lot of love for The Spindlers, too!)

Told from various perspectives, Splendors and Glooms is a Dickensian tale that pretty much has it all: magic, adventure, humor, plucky orphans, dastardly criminals, street urchins—the list goes on. Set mainly in Victorian London (though we take some notable detours), the story follows orphans Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, assistants to the sinister puppeteer Gaspare Grisini.

In contrast to the shabby, hand-to-mouth existence of Lizzie and Parse, young Clara Wintermute lives in the lap of luxury. But even with her warm home and fancy toys, Clara’s life is clouded by sadness and guilt. When Grisini and company are hired to perform for Clara’s birthday party, Lizzie and Parse are immediately drawn to the strange, winsome little girl. But after the party, disaster strikes: Clara disappears, and Grisini is the main suspect.

Haunted by the birthday girl’s hesitant attempt at friendship, Lizzie and Parse set out to solve the mystery of her disappearance. What they find will astonish and amaze them. Don’t worry, readers with delicate constitutions! There’s a happy ending here—for everyone who deserves it, that is.

Baltimore librarian and Newbery medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz (her Victorian thriller A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is another of my favorites) dazzles with lush descriptions, hilarious dialogue, and an utterly engrossing setting. I didn’t want this book to end, and that’s saying something, since it’s almost 400 pages. But those pages flew by! All I wanted to do was curl up in a warm blanket, grab a mug of cocoa, and get lost in this brilliant read.

But don’t take my word for it—check out Cecilia’s glowing review here!

Read on, readers!

—Miss Megan

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Candlewick Press; 17.99; Ages 10-adult

Hot Off the Press: Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

I love magical realism. I love when a story starts in our world and then somehow (usually through a portal of some kind) transitions to a fantasy setting. Last year was prime time for fantastic middle (and upper) grade books of this genre. As any reader of this blog will know, we’re crazy about Breadcrumbs, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairylandand A Monster Calls, all of which hit shelves last fall. And, if Lauren Oliver’s Spindlers is any indication, this year’s shaping up to be equally great.

Oliver just keeps getting better and better. I enjoyed her debut novel Before I Fall, and her YA Delirium series is a big hit with fans of dystopian lit. But it wasn’t until Liesl & Po, her foray into middle grade fiction, that we saw what she can really do. She’s a tremendously gifted storyteller who knows how to craft characters with emotional depth that radiates from the page. 

In The Spindlers, young Liza is the only person to see the truth: her little brother Patrick’s soul has been stolen by Spindlers, the hideous spider-like creatures from the hidden world beneath her parent’s basement. Armed only with a broom, Liza sets off on what she thinks is a quest to save her brother. But as she adventures on, it soon becomes clear that if Patrick’s soul is lost, her own will be forfeit as well.

I tore through this book in a matter of hours. It’s not that the reading level is low, or that Oliver skimped on action or plot. In fact, the opposite is true—this story flows absolutely beautifully. The arc feels complete, the adventure is fully developed, but there are no gratuitous plot lines and absolutely no opportunity for boredom. It’s a fully satisfying tale that will suck you in and then let you go at precisely the right moment. And even though I read The Spindlers in an afternoon, I spent the rest of the day still entrenched in that world—which is one of the highest compliments I can give to an author.

Just when I think I can’t be more of a Lauren Oliver fan, she releases something new, and I fall in love all over again. I may have a serious author crush going here.

Read on, readers!

—Miss Megan

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver, illus. by Iacopo Bruno and Lauren Oliver; HarperCollins; 16.99; Ages 9-12

Megan K’s Favorites of 2011

Megan had a huge list of favorites for the year, proving that 2011 was a GREAT year for publishing! After some crafty picking and choosing, she was able to pick just a few of her favorite books to share with you:

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver; $16.99; HarperCollins; ages 8+

 

 

 

 

Everything Goes On Land by Brian Biggs; $14.99; HarperCollins; ages 3+

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer; $16.99; Penguin Group; age 10+

You Are My Work of Art by Sue DiCicco; $11.95; Running Press Books; ages 2+

Red Sled by Lita Judge; $16.99; Simon & Schuster; ages 3+

Miss Megan’s Picks for Fall!

Fall is quite possibly my favorite time of year. I’m a sucker for the season’s various delights–hot apple cider, crunchy leaves, pumpkin pie, cozy scarves, and freshly printed books! It’s a time when booksellers start singling out their holiday gift choices, their Newbery/Caldecott picks, and their own personal favorites. So, in the spirit of the season, I give to you my list of books that you absolutely, positively must read this fall!

Stars by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee, Ages 2-6 (Simon and Schuster)

Far and away my favorite picture book yet this year. Ray and Frazee’s adorable read aloud gives children beautiful visuals on where to find stars, literally and figuratively. We also get helpful hints on where to keep them (in your pocket) and what to do with extras (give them to friends). Caldecott-winning Frazee (All the World) is as good as ever here, providing whimsical illustrations that combine perfectly with Ray’s simple, imaginative text. One of the things I love about Stars is its appeal for both children and adults–the format and style will keep little ones engaged, but the insights of the text are equally applicable to grownups. In other words, this is one that parents won’t get sick of reading before bed!

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, illustrated by Kei Acedera, Ages 9 and up (HarperCollins)

After her father’s death, Liesl’s stepmother locks her away in the darkness of the attic. But when Po, a ghostly figure from the Other Side, appears, Liesl sees the first warm flicker of hope in a long time. With the help of Will, an alchemist’s apprentice who unknowingly is carrying the most potent magic in the world, the three escape the dank grayness of the city. Little do they know that their actions  will set right a world thrown into chaos and, in the process, heal their own broken lives. Known previously as an author for teens, Lauren Oliver’s first transition into middle grade fiction is excellent. This is a genre she should spend more time in, because she has a knack for simple, heartfelt storytelling that has a poignant, satisfying feel.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, Ages 10 and up (HarperCollins)

I don’t take the forthcoming statement lightly. Ready? Here it is: this book is going on my list of Favorite Books of All Time. It’s not often that a book comes around that is so unanimously beloved from the very beginning, but not one of us at HFB can do anything but sing the praises of this spectacular novel. With her best friend and next door neighbor Jack, Hazel has always felt free to be unique. So when Jack starts behaving oddly, giving Hazel the cold shoulder and acting downright mean, she knows that something is dangerously off. When he disappears altogether, Hazel realizes that a dark enchantment has spirited him away. Mustering her courage, she plunges into the dark unknown of a magical forest to bring him back. Hazel’s voice is clear, honest, wise, and compelling. Authors love to attempt “quirky,” “off-beat” characters, but few succeed in creating people readers can plausibly root for. Anne Ursu’s characters, though, are instantly recognizable as fully human, flaws and all. We have all felt like outsiders at one time or another, and Hazel’s acknowledgment of her own inability to fit in with the rest of the world triggers our recognition as readers. This book is awesome. Read it. Then share it with everyone you know.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Ages 14 and up (Little, Brown Books)

Lucky Linderman’s got problems. His father’s a turtle (detached), his mother’s a squid (spineless), and for years he’s been the target of bullying from Nader (most disgusting specimen of macho-jock-he-man ever to roam the planet). Just when Lucky thinks he can’t handle one more day, things begin to change. For starters, he’s seeing ants. Realistic, intelligent ants who comment on his every action and offer their advice. And, to top it all off, he’s met his granddad, which is impossible, since Granddad has been listed as POW/MIA since Vietnam. But every night Lucky dreams, and in his dreams he’s with Granddad, and now he’s certain that he has to bring him back. Somehow Lucky has to find a way to rescue his grandfather from the jungle, reach his parents, and stand up for himself before everything falls apart for good. A.S. King’s latest novel is an unflinching, humorous, insightful examination of a truly remarkable underdog. For fans of I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak and Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson comes a hero’s journey so engrossing you will be physically unable to stop reading. I repeat: you will stay up all night because you will be incapable of putting this book down!

Bonus pick for grownups: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday)

I was initially suspicious of the buzz surrounding this book, since people were raving about it long before it was actually released. Could it possibly live up to the hype? Answer: YES! Erin Morgenstern’s unique tale of magic, rivalry, and romance is coupled dramatically with her ability to craft entrancing characters and intricately intertwined plotlines. Her imagery is simply breathtaking, and the overall effect is enchanting. I didn’t want it to end! Get your hands on this title ASAP–rumor has it we’ll be seeing a movie version in the near future.

There they are, folks. The cream of the crop, in my humble opinion. Happy reading!

Megan G.