Middle East Must-Reads

Summer might not seem like the time to visit desert sands, and sure, there's more than just desert in the Middle East. But the subject is always topical.

To make sense of the geopolitics, it helps to be steeped in a place, to try to understand the people and their motivations. These books won't make you an expert but maybe they will clarify the murk somewhat, allowing you to see varying parts of the Middle East through the eyes of people who live there.

Best of all, they are great to read for their own sake and also well suited for discussion. If you're ready for some armchair travel to a region of the world that's often terribly misunderstood, buckle your seat-belts and join us for the ride!

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Celebrating Diversity! Eight New & Notable LGBTQ Books for Young Adults

In celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month, and in an effort to promote diversity in kids' literature, we've put together a list of eight highly praised LGBTQ books for young adults, all of which published (or will publish) in 2017.

Why is diversity in kids' literature so important? According to Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at The Ohio State University, and former selection committee member for both the Caldecott and Newbery awards, in her essay "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors":

When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part. ...Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books but they, too, have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others....They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans. ...[B]ooks may be one of the few places where children who are socially isolated and insulated from the larger world may meet people unlike themselves. If they see only reflections of themselves, they will grow up with an exaggerated sense of their own importance and value in the world - a dangerous ethnocentrism.

What do you think of our list? If there are other outstanding YA LGBTQ books you'd like to add you can do so at the bottom.

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You've Got a Friend In Me: Celebrating Women's Friendships

There has been much talk in recent years about why women need friendships with other women. According to a much referenced 2000 UCLA study, friendships between women not only "soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are," they're also good for women's health. These nine books explore the various aspects of women's friendships in all their complexities.

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The Roots of the True Crime Genre

Elm City Murder PamphletAs evidenced in her novel, Little Deaths, author Emma Flint is an aficionado of true crime. These books that chronicle the grim details of actual murders are written with a sensitive ear to readers' morbid curiosity about sensational crimes. The genre has been popular for centuries – people have long been willing to shell out cash to indulge the guilty pleasure of peeping into man's oldest and most heinous practice – murder.

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The Environment in Fiction

How do you take something as sprawling and all-encompassing as the environment around us and make it one of the primary players in fiction? These fascinating and compelling novels show us how it's done. What's more, they fulfill the basic premise of fiction, which is to make the story universal, to drive home the impact and maybe shed light on something we might not have heard about before. Just in time for Earth Day, these dramatic novels will doubtless give you plenty of fuel for discussion as we face the daunting challenge ahead of us.

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The History of Fictional Female Detectives

Many great novels start with a premise, which mirrors or takes inspiration from something in real life. In Greer Macallister's Girl in Disguise, the inspiration is the real-life Kate Warne, the first female private detective who began her career with Pinkerton's in 1856. Learning about her made me wonder which came first – did the concept of creating a woman detective rise from some writer's fertile imagination, or was Warne the inspiration for the first fictional female sleuth?

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