Trisha Ping

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Provide “shelf-talker” annotations and corresponding short links to BookPage’s expert recommendations. All you have to do is copy and paste to social media!

October 2022

Provide "shelf-talker" annotations and corresponding short links to our expert recommendations. All you have to do is copy and paste to social media!

October 2022

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Think you know everything Potter? Since the January announcement of a release date for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, any respectable fan has by this time memorized the facts and figures about this behemoth of a book: 38 chapters, about 255,000 words, a release date of June 21. . . . There are a few lesser-known facts, however, that have probably eluded even the most ardent fans. So, we've done a little research to uncover things you might not know about the popular Potter franchise, including a couple of tidbits about the closely guarded plot of the new book. Test your magical knowledge with the questions below!

1. What word coined by Rowling made it into the Oxford English Dictionary?

2. What mishap slowed filming of Prisoner of Azkaban?

3. Which beloved character will be returning in Order of the Phoenix?

4. How many voices did reader Jim Dale use in the audio version of Goblet of Fire? (Bonus question how long was the recording?)

5. What do the initials "J.K." stand for?

6. How much is a signed first edition of the British version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone worth?

7. Who will become the Gryffindor Keeper in the fifth book?

8. Will book four (Goblet of Fire) be one film, or two?

9. A card containing 93 words about the new book was auctioned on eBay for what sum?

10. What ominous dream haunts Harry in Order of the Phoenix?

 

SCROLL  DOWN  FOR  ANSWERS!

 

 

 

1. "Muggle" was included in the most recent update of the Oxford English Dictionary. Though J.K. Rowling coined it to signify a person with no magical powers, the OED days common usage has extended it to mean "a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way."

 

2. Sparks from the Hogwarts Express train started a fire during filming of Prisoner of Azkaban in Scotland, destroying nearly 80 acres of heather moorland.

3. Remus Lupin, Harry's beloved former Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, will return, though in a different capacity: the new DADA teacher will be a woman.

4. Jim Dale used 127 voices to read Goblet of Fire. He's also been selected to record the audio version of Order of the Phoenix, which will be released on the same day as the book. (Answer to the bonus question: the recording is 24 hours long.)

5. Rowling's full name is Joanne Kathleen.

6. A signed, first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (the book's title in the UK) sells for upwards of $39,000. Only 600 copies of the UK first edition were printed.

7. Ron Weasley will become the new Gryffindor Keeper (Oliver Wood, team captain and former Keeper, graduated in book four).

8. Sorry, this is a bit of a trick question: screenwriter Steve Kloves has been working closely with Rowling on the script for the film version of book four. It's not yet known whether it will have to be split into two films. Apparently there are benefits to working with Rowling. She told the BBC that she's given Kloves "more information [about the HP books] than I've ever given anyone else."

9. The card, which contains words central to the plot of Order of the Phoenix, was auctioned in December for $45,314. Proceeds went to Book Aid International.

10. According to the publisher, Harry has frightening dreams of "a single door in a silent corridor. This door is somehow more terrifying than every other nightmare combined."

Think you know everything Potter? Since the January announcement of a release date for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, any respectable fan has by this time memorized the facts and figures about this behemoth of a book: 38 chapters, about 255,000 words, a release date of June 21. . . . There […]
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Maybe it's the reality TV craze, but it seems that today's books for teens are less focused on moral lessons and more focused on the issues of everyday life. In honor of the American Library Association's Teen Read Week (October 19-25), we've chosen some recent books that typify this trend by reflecting the challenges and interests of a new generation of readers.

Inner-city angst
No one cuts to the heart of inner-city teen issues like Walter Dean Myers. The Beast begins when 16-year-old Anthony "Spoon" Witherspoon leaves his Harlem neighborhood for a Connecticut prep school called Wallingford Academy, which he hopes will help him fulfill his dream of attending Brown University. The only thing he regrets is leaving his girlfriend Gabi, who has a real talent for poetry. At school, Spoon's classes inspire him, and he gets along with his classmates. It's only when he goes back to his old neighborhood for the winter break that he realizes how much and how quickly things can change. His best friend, Scott, has dropped out of high school. Gabi is still the sensitive poet he left behind, but the stress of family problems has pushed her into drug use. Spoon's attempt to save her will change them both.

The author of several acclaimed young adult novels, Myers grew up in Harlem, and if the disadvantaged teens seem a little too good to be true at times, knowing that Myers has been there himself allows the reader to suspend disbelief. The Beast's ultimately uplifting ending will satisfy teens.

Finding the way
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things by Carolyn Mackler explores the challenges faced by teens on the other side of New York City. Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves considers herself a loser in a family of winners. Her parents and older brother and sister are all thin, attractive, intelligent and fluent in French. Virginia is "larger-than-average," detests French and prefers People magazine to classic novels. Her best friend has just moved to Walla Walla, Washington, her clandestine romance with a classmate called Froggy is on the rocks, and her fitness-obsessed mother has decided that now's the time to do something about Virginia's weight problem. Confronted with the disapproval of her parents and the rude comments of the more popular students, Virginia starts a dangerous descent into starvation dieting and other self-destructive behaviors. When her brother, Byron, is suspended from Columbia, Virginia realizes that her family might not be so perfect after all—and finds a way to accept and discover herself. Mackler, whose Love and Other Four-Letter Words was an IRA Young Adult's Choice book, does an amazing job of capturing the wistful self-consciousness of teenage girls, and Virginia's transformation is inspiring.

Good advice
The mature lives led by today's teens have inspired a crop of self-help and motivational titles. Mawi Asgedom, an Ethiopian refugee whose inspiring memoir, Of Beetles and Angels (2000), was a BookSense '76 pick, offers one of the best. The Code: The Five Secrets of Success for Teens tells teens how they can improve their lives through knowing their inner character and refining their outer goals. Asgedom shares many inspiring case studies as well as his own experiences of overcoming difficulties in a conversational style that will appeal to teen readers. Each chapter is devoted to one of the five secrets and ends with a short section called "Your Turn," which gives teens the opportunity to put the chapter's message to immediate use. Asgedom, a graduate of Harvard, has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, named by ESSENCE as one of the 40 most inspiring African Americans and has given the commencement address at Harvard. His practical advice will motivate teens to greater levels of success.

Star quality
Nothing says "teen" like rock n' roll. The Book of Rock Stars by Kathleen Krull is the perfect volume to slide under the door of that teenager who just won't come out of his or her room (and has the music turned up too loudly to hear you knocking). The brief profiles of stars from Jim Morrison to Chrissie Hynde to Kurt Cobain are accompanied by gorgeous color art by Stephen Alcorn and full of fascinating tidbits. Can you name the only person who's been inducted three times into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame? (Eric Clapton as a Yardbird, a member of Cream and a solo artist.) Three rockers who died at age 27? (Joplin, Morrison and Cobain.) The book concludes with suggestions for further research into each star, including websites, books and albums. This compelling introduction to some of rock's major figures will interest teens and offer an opportunity for parents to reminisce about the music of their youth.

 

 

 

Maybe it's the reality TV craze, but it seems that today's books for teens are less focused on moral lessons and more focused on the issues of everyday life. In honor of the American Library Association's Teen Read Week (October 19-25), we've chosen some recent books that typify this trend by reflecting the challenges and interests of a new generation of readers.
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Just in time for February 14, publishers are releasing scads of dating advice books promising a one-way ticket to relationship bliss. But in the sea of books with snappy titles, how to discover which one is best for you? And how long before the author brings forth the inevitable nugget of wisdom from "Sex and the City"? Read on to find out.

The Book: A Practical Handbook for the Boyfriend: For Every Guy Who Wants to Be One, for Every Girl Who Wants to Build One

The Authors: Actress Felicity Huffman is best known for playing working mom Lynette on "Desperate Housewives"; Patricia Wolff is a playwright. Both are hilarious.

The Hook: This is a relationship book for guys, and it has the vintage-style noir illustrations to prove it.

Who Should Buy: Those who look for laughs with their relationship advice. But let’s face it: This book may be "for the boyfriend," but women will be the ones buying it for their boyfriends or brothers (or themselves).

Sample Quote: "A man’s emotional checklist is pretty basic: Am I hungry? Am I sleepy? Am I horny? If he’s content in all three areas, he’s pretty much okay. A woman’s emotional checklist reads more like a Russian novel. It’s long, complicated, confusing, and you spend a lot of time trying to keep the characters straight."

First Mention of "Sex and the City": page 91.

 


 

The Book: He’s Just Not in the Stars: Wicked Astrology and Uncensored Advice for Getting the (Almost) Perfect Guy 

The Author: Jenni Kosarin is a sex columnist.

The Hook: A man’s suitability for everlasting love and faithfulness is written in the stars. By pairing his Sun sign (determined by birth date) with his Venus sign (determined by birth year), you can "discover your man’s predisposition in love." Though the writing is sometimes reminiscent of US Weekly ("love profiles" of celebrities, and their romantic histories, are included), the astrological profiles are scarily accurate.

Who Should Buy: Anyone who thinks the stars tell all, or serial daters. If you’re in a relationship, just read the page on your current squeeze’s sign in the bookstore.

Sample Quote: "Isn’t it time someone tells the real story about how you should define men in love?"

First Mention of "Sex and the City": page 2.

 


 

The Book: Better Single than Sorry: A No-Regrets Guide to Loving Yourself and Never Settling

The Author: Jen Schefft won her season of "The Bachelor" when she became engaged to Andrew Firestone in the finale. After their break-up, she starred in "The Bachelorette" but ended up turning down all 25 of her eager suitors.

The Hook: Being alone is better than being in a bad relationship, so wait for the right man. And don’t let your parents, grandparents or smug married friends make you feel guilty about your single status.

Who Should Buy: Fans of Schefft (though don’t expect any meaty behind-the-scenes gossip about the TV show), or any woman who’s fed up with feeling bad about being single.

Sample Quote: "If you focus too much attention on the idea of getting a ring or having a wedding, you’ll lose sight of the most importation thing: the marriage. When I walk down the aisle, I want to feel 100 percent certain that the man waiting at the altar is the best person for me. I won’t let the glare of a diamond cloud my judgment. In fact, I’ve had one, and I assure you it doesn’t guarantee happiness."

First Mention of "Sex and the City": page 10.

 


 

The Book: Kiss and Run: The Single, Picky, and Indecisive Girl’s Guide to Overcoming Her Fear of Commitment

The Author: Elina Furman is a self-proclaimed commitment-phobe, and she’s written several books on dating and singles.

The Hook: Men aren’t the only ones with commitment issues. Don’t let a fear of commitment keep you from saying "yes" to true love and happiness.

Who Should Buy: Jen Schefft. (Just kidding.) Women who could say yes to at least three of Furman’s Top Ten Signs You’re Commitment-phobic, which include "You have a long and elaborate list of requirements for your ideal mate" and "You have a habit of dating ‘unavailable’ men."

Sample Quote: "If you’re choosing to be with someone who isn’t ready for a serious relationship, what does that say about you? Remember the Golden Rule: IF YOU’RE WITH A COMMITMENT-PHOBE, YOU ARE A COMMITMENTPHOBE."

First Mention of "Sex and the City": page 12.

 


 

The Book: Secrets of a Fix-Up Fanatic: How to Meet and Marry Your Match

The Author: Amateur matchmaker Susan Shapiro also wrote the memoir The Five Men Who Broke My Heart. Her narrative voice comes across as a bit smug at times—but after sending 12 couples to the altar, maybe she’s earned it.

The Hook: Getting someone you know to hook you up is the best way to find a good match—but you also need to learn to recognize the men who are marriage material and fix yourself up before you can be fixed up.

Who Should Buy: Singles with a large network of social, trustworthy friends—after all, any setup is only as good as the person making the connection.

Sample Quote: "The beauty of having someone near and dear to you set you up is that there’ll be no surprises or shocks about what lies ahead . . . you can feel semicertain that your next suitor will not be a tranny in hiding, a serial adulteror, or an axe murderer."

First Mention of "Sex and the City": page 3.

 


 

The Book:  Actually, It Is Your Parents’ Fault: Why Your Romantic Relationship Isn’t Working, and How to Fix It

The Authors: Philip Van Munching wrote Boys Will Put You on a Pedestal (So They Can Look Up Your Skirt), and psychoanalyst Bernie Katz counsels families and couples on Long Island.

The Hook: Your childhood experiences shaped your personality and set the course for your adult life. If you can understand the way they did that, you too can have a healthy, conflict-free relationship.

Who Should Buy: Those with an interest in psychoanalysis; anyone who believes in nurture over nature; people who can’t seem to be in a relationship without conflict (Van Munching says that’s because you’re playing out dysfunctional relationships from your childhood).

Sample Quote: "[W]e don’t ask ourselves the single most relevant question when it comes to figuring out the origin of our longing for someone else: What does the personality trait I seem to be so drawn to in others reveal about me?"

First Mention of "Sex and the City": page 30.

Trisha Ping is currently single, but refuses to hold her parents responsible.

Just in time for February 14, publishers are releasing scads of dating advice books promising a one-way ticket to relationship bliss. But in the sea of books with snappy titles, how to discover which one is best for you? And how long before the author brings forth the inevitable nugget of wisdom from "Sex and […]
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Dear BookPage.com readers,

You may have noticed that our site looks a little bit different. We've given BookPage.com a new look (just like we did for The Book Case a few weeks ago), and we hope it makes it even easier to discover your next great book.

In addition to the full print edition and web exclusive content we've been sharing for some time, we've added a few new features:

• Revamped reader profiles let you save reviews of books you want to read later, email them to a friend or post your favorites to Facebook or Twitter.

• Our new author pages put all the reviews and interviews we have written about your favorite author over the past 20 years in one place.

• A redesigned archive page lets you easily browse past issues.

  •  

Over the next month (OK, probably the next few months!) we'll be working out some kinks and formatting issues, so we hope you'll hang in there, enjoy what's new and tell your friends.

 

Trisha Ping

BookPage Web Editor

Dear BookPage.com readers, You may have noticed that our site looks a little bit different. We've given BookPage.com a new look (just like we did for The Book Case a few weeks ago), and we hope it makes it even easier to discover your next great book. In addition to the full print edition and web […]
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You want free books. We want you to explore our site. This scavenger hunt makes everyone happy! In celebration of the relaunch of BookPage.com, we’re giving you the chance to win one of several prizes guaranteed to delight any book lover. The grand prize? One book, per week, for a year. Our runner up will receive a book lover’s gift basket, and the third-place winner gets 10 free books.

Ready to play? All you have to do is answer our questionnaire (it opens in a new window). Browse the site, find the answers, submit the quiz and voilá—you could be a winner. Good luck!

 

You want free books. We want you to explore our site. This scavenger hunt makes everyone happy! In celebration of the relaunch of BookPage.com, we’re giving you the chance to win one of several prizes guaranteed to delight any book lover. The grand prize? One book, per week, for a year. Our runner up will […]
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Glance at any inspirational fiction shelf these days, and you're sure to run across at least one Amish-themed book. Series from authors like Beverly Lewis, Wanda E. Brunstetter and Lauraine Snelling are all regulars on Christian fiction bestseller lists. The books are easily recognizable: series titles include the words "sister" or "daughter"; covers almost always bear the image of a woman in an old-fashioned white bonnet, staring wistfully into the distance. Every Christian publisher has at least one Amish series to its credit. Thomas Nelson chimed in last month with Plain Perfect from debut novelist Beth Wiseman. Her editor, Natalie Hanemann, says the genre "provides an environment that is centered on God, making it a perfect landscape for Christian fiction."

Other aspects of the Amish lifestyle make it intriguing to readers. "Everyone loves a good romance story, but the perceived simplicity of the Amish community moves it away from the common stresses of our everyday life," says Shannon Marchese, an editor at WaterBrook who works with Cindy Woodsmall on the Sisters of the Quilt series, including her recent release When the Soul Mends. "We can imagine a 'loftier' romantic story for these people who still travel by buggy."

Both editors say the future of the genre is bright, and see it diversifying (secular publishers like MIRA Books have also had success with Amish stories). "Amish is beginning to mix with other genres—suspense and mystery, for example," says Hanemann. "I personally love these books and would be thrilled to bring on more authors who write well . . . the competition is stiff, but the readers' appetites seem to be insatiable!"

Glance at any inspirational fiction shelf these days, and you're sure to run across at least one Amish-themed book. Series from authors like Beverly Lewis, Wanda E. Brunstetter and Lauraine Snelling are all regulars on Christian fiction bestseller lists. The books are easily recognizable: series titles include the words "sister" or "daughter"; covers almost always […]
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Is there anything more nerve-racking than publishing a first novel? For authors and publishers alike, it’s a nail-biting moment of sink or swim. Here are 10 debuts from the year (so far!) that signal the start of promising careers.

THE HOUSE GIRL
By Tara Conklin
For fans of: Tracy Chevalier, Kathryn Stockett, Geraldine Brooks
First line: “Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run.”
About the book: The stories of a runaway slave and a modern-day lawyer intersect in a quiet, emotional and thought-provoking tale.
About the author: Conklin worked as a corporate lawyer before moving to Seattle with her husband and children to write this novel.
Read more: Interview from our February issue.

GHOSTMAN
By Roger Hobbs
For fans of: Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Dan Brown
First line: “Hector Moreno and Jerome Ribbons sat in the car on the ground level of the Atlantic Regency Hotel Casino parking garage, sucking up crystal meth with a rolled-up five spot, a lighter and a crinkled length of tin foil.”
About the book: This thrilling heist novel is full of nonstop action and includes incredible detail on everything from casino operations to armored cars—as well as an unforgettable, amoral antihero.
About the author: Just 24 years old, Hobbs finished the novel while still attending Reed College in Portland.
Read more: Interview from our February issue.

THE SUPREMES AT EARL'S ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT
By Edward Kelsey Moore
For fans of: Maeve Binchy, Terry McMillan, Fannie Flagg
First line: “I woke up hot that morning. Came out of a sound sleep with my face tingling and my nightgown stuck to my body.”
About the book: The 40-year friendship of three women from the small town of Plainview, Indiana, is celebrated in a big-hearted story that’s full of laughs—and inspired by the “smart, and interesting, and not foolish” women in Moore’s own life.
About the author: Moore was an accomplished cellist and college professor when he decided to try writing at the age of 40 (he’s now 52).
Read more: Interview from our March issue.

A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA
By Anthony Marra
For fans of: Téa Obreht, Adam Johnson, Jonathan Safran Foer
First line: “On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.”
About the book: Set against the backdrop of the Chechen Wars, an exhausted doctor fights to protect a young girl whose father has been taken away by Russian soldiers for a crime he didn’t commit.
About the author: Currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Marra holds an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and has lived in Eastern Europe.
Read more: Review from our May issue.

THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI
By Helene Wecker
For fans of: Susanna Clarke, Deborah Harkness, Michael Chabon
First line: “The Golem’s life began in the hold of a steamship.”
About the book: A golem, a jinni and the evil wizard that links them star in Wecker’s imaginative blend of Jewish and Arabic folklore. The supernatural characters are grounded by the novel’s detailed, vibrant setting in 1899 New York City, where immigrants and wealthy citizens mingle on teeming streets.
About the author: Wecker spent seven years working in the corporate sector before attending Columbia University’s writing program.
Read more: Interview from our May issue.

THE OTHER TYPIST
By Suzanne Rindell
For fans of: Amor Towles, Zoë Heller, M.L. Stedman
First line: “They said the typewriter would unsex us.”
About the book: Rose, a prim and proper typist working in 1920s Manhattan, forms a friendship with mysterious, fun-loving Odalie that borders on obsession. With Rose as its sly and slightly unreliable narrator, this suspenseful story will keep you guessing.
About the author: A former employee of a literary agency, Rindell is finishing up a Ph.D. in modernist literature at Rice University.
Read more: Review from our May issue.

THE EXECUTION OF NOA P. SINGLETON
By Elizabeth L. Silver
For fans of: Lionel Shriver, Gillian Flynn, John Grisham
First line: “In this world, you are either good or evil.”
About the book: We know from page one that Noa is guilty of murder. Silver’s psychologically acute narrative probes the all-important question of why—and provides a breathtaking answer.
About the author: Silver earned her legal knowledge as a judicial clerk and research attorney for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She also has an M.A. in literature.
Read more: Review from our June issue.

THE GHOST BRIDE
By Yangsze Choo
For fans of: Lisa See, Eowyn Ivey, Jamie Ford, Erin Morgenstern
First line: “One evening, my father asked me whether I would like to become a ghost bride.”
About the book: In 1893 Malaysia, Li Lan finds herself betrothed to a ghost—and in love with another man. Her quest for freedom takes her through the land of the dead.
About the author: Choo got a degree in sociology from Harvard before launching her writing career.  
Read more: Interview in this issue.

THE FIELDS
By Kevin Maher
For fans of: Roddy Doyle, Jennifer Haigh, Nick Hornby
First line: “When Jack died I was real young, younger than I am now, and I said, in a temper, that I would never let it happen again.”
About the book: This ambitious coming-of-age story set in 1980s Dublin is told in the memorable voice of Jim Finnegan, the youngest of six in a working-class family.
About the author: From Dublin himself, Maher now lives in England and is a film critic for several papers, including the Guardian.
Read more: Review in this issue.

THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES
By Hanya Yanagihara
For fans of: Donna Tartt, Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver
First line: “I was born in 1924 near Lindon, Indiana, the sort of small, unremarkable rural town that some twenty years before my birth had begun to duplicate itself, quietly but insistently, across the Midwest.”
About the book: Told through the annotated journals of Dr. Norton Perina, this sprawling tale has an old-fashioned feel. Perina has discovered the key to longevity on a remote island—but at what price?
About the author: Yanagihara is an editor for Condé Nast Travel—which explains Perina’s fantastic descriptions of island paradise.
Read more: Review in this issue.

Is there anything more nerve-racking than publishing a first novel? For authors and publishers alike, it’s a nail-biting moment of sink or swim. Here are 10 debuts from the year (so far!) that signal the start of promising careers.

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What comes to mind when you think of women’s fiction? If the word is “predictable,” think again: Two fearless first-time novelists are turning tropes upside down.

In their first novels, authors Eliza Kennedy and Sarai Walker are pushing the boundaries of popular fiction with female-centered stories that blend dark twists and searing social commentary in ways that draw from literary fiction (Notes on a Scandal to Anna Karenina) and suspense (insert obligatory Gone Girl reference).

Lily Wilder, the charismatic narrator of Kennedy’s I Take You, is doubting her decision to marry—but not for the reasons you’d expect. Lily, a successful lawyer, isn’t worried that the ceremony won’t be picture-perfect or that her fiancé will run out on her: She’s afraid that marriage will cramp her not-exactly-monogamous lifestyle. 

As for Plum Kettle, the overweight protagonist of Sarai Walker’s Dietland, the person who changes her life isn’t a man. It’s a mysterious young woman, who initiates the virtually housebound Plum (who is planning on having bariatric surgery) into a secret society of guerrilla fighters who are committing terrorist acts against the patriarchy. Targets range from gang rapists to a “Girls Gone Wild”-type filmmaker.

Lily and Plum are heroines who lie outside the social norms, both those of real life and those of women’s fiction. Lily loves her fiancé, Will, but she also loves sex—lots of it. She isn’t sure if she can change that about herself, or if she even wants to, although by accepting his proposal she’s signed on to try.

For her part, at more than 300 pounds, Plum is not conventionally beautiful, although it’s hard to say for sure since she is usually described through her own very critical eyes. Plum defines herself by her weight, hiding her body in shapeless, colorless clothes and spending years on thankless diets waiting for her skinny self—whom she calls Alicia—to emerge so she can finally start living.

Still, it’s not entirely unusual for stories to start out with women who are a little bit different. After all, that’s why their lives aren’t perfect, right? As the pages turn, you’re waiting for the moment when Lily and Plum transform, become what society expects—which makes you realize just how well-trodden the tropes of popular fiction can be. But as Dietland and I Take You approach their very different but equally satisfying conclusions, it becomes clear that this isn’t the point. Plum and Lily don't need to change—the world does. 

Readers will find themselves cheering on these two truly unconventional heroines all the way to the last page—and be thinking about their choices long afterward.

 

RELATED CONTENT: Read our online Q&As with Kennedy (I Take You) and Walker (Dietland)
 

This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

What comes to mind when you think of women’s fiction? If the word is “predictable,” think again: Two fearless first-time novelists are turning tropes upside down.
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Do you have someone on your gift list who could use a dose of inspiration? Or maybe you're the one looking for reading material to provide motivation and reflection as we head into 2016. Either way, these new books might be just the ticket.

YOUR BEST SELF
Before she wrote Wild, Cheryl Strayed worked as an advice columnist, Dear Sugar (she is now reprising the role via podcast with the writer Steve Almond). Readers of that column—and her book Tiny Beautiful Things—know that Strayed has a knack for delivering sage advice with compassion and wit. Her new book, Brave Enough, a tiny hardcover in a cheerful green binding, contains more than 100 quotes from Strayed's work that are as simple and straightforward as they are wise. From advice ("romantic love is not a competitive sport") to prompts that will make you re-evaluate your choices ("Ask yourself: What is the best I can do? And then do that.") this is a collection to contemplate and savor. 

SAYING 'YES' TO SUCCESS
The influence of Shonda Rhimes on the entertainment industry over the past 10 years is difficult to overstate. The writer, producer and showrunner is responsible for runaway hits like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal." Rhimes' popular shows, which feature diverse casts, are often credited with cracking open a glass ceiling for non-white actors—much as Rhimes herself, who is black, has reached a level of success in the TV business that few women or African Americans had previously attained. In her first book, Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, Rhimes talks about the pressures and pleasures of this role in a frank and personal tone ("If the first network drama with an African-American leading lady in thirty-seven years didn't find an audience, who knows how long it would take for another to come along?"). But she also discusses issues that the average woman can relate to—such as weight loss and the balance of work and home life—from a feminist perspective without holding back, even when her opinions might be controversial (for one, she says that motherhood is not a job, but a role). 

NEVERMIND THE END
Neurologist Oliver Sacks spent nearly 50 years treating patients, healing others even as he made a name for himself with his lyrical essays about the mind's many mysteries. He died of cancer on August 30, 2015, just four months after publishing his memoir. His final book, Gratitude, is a short compliation of Sacks' final four essays, which were written in the last two years of his life and previously published in The New York Times. All four focus on aging and coming to terms with mortality with honesty, from Sacks' perspective as a doctor-turned-patient. Sacks has a perspective on the human body and mind that most of us don't, and although his observations are more personal than clinical, his experience does contribute to a point of view that is matter of fact without being soulless. A brief introduction by Sacks' assistant, Kate Edgar, and his partner of eight years, Billy Hayes, gives context to these pieces, which serve as a fitting coda to a memorable body of work. 

Do you have someone on your gift list who could use a dose of inspiration? Or maybe you're the one looking for reading material to provide motivation and reflection as we head into 2016. Either way, these new books might be just the ticket.

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CHRISTMAS WITH THE KENNEDYS
Caroline Kennedy shares some of her family's most time-honored holiday traditions in A Family Christmas. After a brief introduction, and a reproduction of a letter Kennedy herself wrote to Santa from the White House in 1962, the book moves on to include dozens of musings on the season from authors, musicians and public figures. It encompasses the traditional (Irving Berlin songs, Bible verses, Robert Frost poems) as well as the surprising (who in the family is a Run-DMC fan?) and is beautifully illustrated in watercolor by award-winning artist Jon J. Muth, who also worked with Kennedy on her anthology A Family of Poems.

A Family Christmas is not quite as intimate as its title might imply the book includes few personal stories or anecdotes. But the solid selections easily stand on their own merit, and Kennedy's eclectic, erudite collection of poems, carols and stories is sure to become one that readers will return to year after year.

TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD
It's time to think about the whys behind the whats. Christmas Around the World, a beautiful pop-up book illustrated and engineered by Chuck Fischer, highlights the ways people worldwide (well, in Europe anyway, though there is a brief section on Latin America and the U.S.) celebrate the season. Dynamic 3-D spreads on Italy, Germany, France and Russia are complemented by pull-out books and fold-out flaps, where text by Anne Newgarden gives details on that region's unique holiday customs. Russia's pages are dominated by a large pop-up of their double-headed imperial eagle. The spread on France is particularly festive, with the white dome of Montmartre rising above charming cobblestone streets crossed with star-shaped garlands and filled with Parisian shoppers. Christmas Around the World is the perfect introduction to foreign customs for young children.

Meera Lester limits herself to investigating only 101 holiday customs in Why Does Santa Wear Red? . . . and 100 Other Christmas Curiosities Unwrapped. The 101 curiosities include songs, stories, craft ideas, pop-culture quizzes and recipes, in addition to solving the mystery of Santa's sartorial choices. Like Newgarden and Forbes, Lester shares European and American Christmas traditions, including more esoteric figures like France's Pre Fouttard (St. Nicholas' evil counterpart) and Italy's La Befana, who declined to accompany the Three Wise Men and has been looking for the Baby Jesus ever since. Not a book that's necessarily meant to be read from cover to cover, Why Does Santa Wear Red? is a portable size, making it easy to dip into whenever you have a moment to escape the holiday frenzy.

Christmas: A Candid History by Bruce David Forbes is a more in-depth look at Christmas customs and the reasons behind them. From the Puritans' ban on the holiday to today's Christmas culture wars, Forbes leaves no stone unturned, digging up every detail about the holiday in America. The result is an interesting book that is sure to make you the biggest Christmas know-it-all at the office party.

COOKING WITH SANTA
Everyone's favorite gift-giver has a taste for more than just Christmas cookies. In Santa's North Pole Cookbook, the jolly old elf shares Christmas recipes gleaned from his years of traveling around the world. More than 70 of Santa's favorites are presented here, as told to writer Jeff Guinn (The Autobiography of Santa Claus), and accompanied by stories from Santa and cooking tips from his personal North Pole chef, Lars.

CATCH HIM IF YOU CAN
At first it's not completely clear whether writer Bob Eckstein is making a serious attempt to find the first snowman in The History of the Snowman . . . until you reach the end of the first paragraph, that is, and realize you're off on a tongue-in-cheek look at the snowman in film, song, cartoons, advertising and literature throughout history. In the 1920s, for example, Frosty was a pickled, skirt-chasing, under-the-table lush who bore a striking resemblance to W.C. Fields ( Both started . . . parading crimson noses and enjoying prolific silent movie careers based on their reputations as charming drunks. ) before a short-lived rehabilitation in the 1960s. At the close of 20th century, the snowman endured the white trash years, appearing in (horrors!) a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie, and playing the villain in abysmal slasher pics like 1996's Jack Frost. Eckstein does claim to have found the very first snowman, but we won't ruin the fun by revealing when and where.

AUTHORS FIND HOLIDAY INSPIRATION
Christmas stories can warm even the coldest of hearts. Perhaps that's why every year, another best-selling author joins the crowd of writers who release books with holiday themes. This year, memoirist and teacher Frank McCourt enters the ring with Angela and the Baby Jesus, illustrated by Loren Long. This story, set in 1912 Ireland and starring a six-year-old Angela (McCourt's mother, of Angela's Ashes fame), is an endearing fable that will delight both adults and children in fact, Scribner is publishing a large-format picture book edition for the younger set to read on their own.

CHRISTMAS WITH THE KENNEDYS Caroline Kennedy shares some of her family's most time-honored holiday traditions in A Family Christmas. After a brief introduction, and a reproduction of a letter Kennedy herself wrote to Santa from the White House in 1962, the book moves on to include dozens of musings on the season from authors, musicians […]

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