Book

Cover Love

We’ve rounded up covers we love, and we hope you will too. We’ve also gathered all of your cover votes from this month, and your most loved cover is…The Cruel Prince by Holly Black!

Click on each cover to read the full description, request (or wish for) the title, and “Like” the cover if you haven’t already. If you’ve read these titles, don’t forget to share feedback with the publisher and with your friends & followers.

Tell us in the comments below which covers you’re loving right now &
they could be included in next month’s edition!

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Julie C. Dao: Women I Write Should Never, Ever Be Underestimated

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Bookshelf, bookshelf, on the wall. What is the most anticipated fall release of all? To be fair, there are quite a few. But Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has been at the top of our list for a while. It’s a dark fairy tale retelling that reimagines the Evil Queen from “Snow White” rising to power in a world inspired by Imperial China. To celebrate the book’s release, we chatted with Dao about writing a villain, the power of beauty, and why you should never, ever underestimate any of her female characters.

Bookish: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a retelling/origin story for the Evil Queen from “Snow White.” Which elements of the original tale or character did you want to keep? Which elements did you want to leave behind?

Julie C. Dao: I wanted it to be a completely original reimagining of “Snow White” that was like nothing I had seen before in YA, but I also wanted to hold on to important elements of the old fairy tale. It’s crucial, when writing a fairy tale retelling, to ground the reader in your story. I wanted to make my reader feel comfortable, make them think this is going to be like the tale with which they’re familiar, and then… yank the rug from underneath them! From the original “Snow White,” I wanted to keep the magic mirror, the apple, and the stepmother/stepdaughter dynamic, but I twisted these concepts to fit my own purposes. In doing this, I hoped to make the reader still recognize the inspiration behind the story, but at the same time think of FOTL as fresh and new.

Bookish: What is the hardest part of writing a villain? What is your favorite part?

JCD: I knew I had my work cut out for me with someone like Xifeng who has a character arc that spirals downward. My biggest concern was making her somewhat sympathetic, even as she makes all the wrong choices and succumbs to her own greed for power. That was the hardest part: making her believable in some capacity. My favorite part was putting myself in the shoes of someone so completely different from me and everything I believe in—someone who has no moral boundaries whatsoever when it comes to their ambition. It was an interesting experience!

Bookish: The Evil Queen is famously vain, and in the book we see Xifeng grow from resenting how her beauty defines her to learning to use it as a gift and a weapon. How do you view the relationship between beauty and power?

JCD: I knew, in writing a “Snow White”-inspired tale, that I wanted to keep beauty as power and a status symbol in my story. Classic fairy tales favor youth and attractiveness above all and consistently depict older female characters as evil. So what would happen if a princess grew older and her beauty faded according to society’s standards? The stories seem to insist that the aging princess accept this fate, this loss of her perceived importance as a human being. If she dared to fight against this or resent a younger woman, then she was deemed the Evil Queen/Stepmother.

Basically, according to fairy tales, women were supposed to be young and beautiful until they were not, and then go away. I think our society would like to believe we are beyond this, but the worshipping of physical beauty persists. The perception of beauty may change, but the value placed upon it never does. Outward attractiveness—however defined, depending on the time and place—is seen to help get people ahead and earn them attention.

In Forest, Xifeng recognizes that her youth and beauty are vital assets. She’s clever and educated, but believes her physical attributes will win her the throne and help her keep it, and she’s terrified of losing them. This increasing fear and paranoia propel her toward a tragic choice: She essentially sells her soul for the assurance that she will never lose her looks. She is not a queen punished for aging; she is a queen whose self-inflicted punishment is that she herself cannot see her own worth beyond the prejudices of beauty.

Bookish: Xifeng has a Lady Macbeth moment of seeing blood that no one else can see. Did Lady Macbeth also serve as an inspiration for Xifeng?

JCD: Actually, she was not, but I can totally see what you mean! Lady Macbeth is the instigator behind her husband’s deeds and the blood on her hands is guilt for what she has indirectly wrought, if I remember correctly. For Xifeng, however, the blood that appears on her face is a symbol and a reminder that her beauty is fleeting—that once gone, she will have lost what she considers to be her greatest power. Also, Xifeng would never be content pulling the puppet strings in the background. She would want to be front and center!

Bookish: Underestimating women is a big theme in this book. We see Xifeng overlooked as “just a pretty face” time and again, but we also see her fail to realize how strong the Empress truly is. What drew you to this theme?

JCD: It is ironic that Xifeng hates being underestimated, yet falls victim to doing this to other women, isn’t it? I’m drawn to powerful female characters, and when I say “powerful,” I mean all different types of power. So often in fiction and film we associate female strength with perceived traditional masculine characteristics, like wielding a sword and being physically aggressive. But there are so many types of power people are often too happy to overlook: the power of knowing your truth, of being confident in yourself, of protecting the people you love and the beliefs you value, of charging toward your destiny no matter what cost. I wanted to show different types of female strength in book one, and in book two you will see even more. Every single woman I write has a power of her own and should never, ever be underestimated!

Bookish: We see Xifeng and other women judged harshly for their aspirations in a way the male characters are not. Was this element inspired by the Evil Queen’s lust for power or by more modern influences?

JCD: This element was mostly inspired by the patriarchal society in which I chose to set the book, which is a kingdom inspired by Imperial China. Female historical figures like Empress Wu dealt with much prejudice and censure for their methods in seeking power. And yet, when reading about her deeds, it didn’t seem to me like anything the Empress did hadn’t already been done by male rulers of her time. But they didn’t come under the same kind of scrutiny and criticism. The double standard still exists today, unfortunately, with powerful women in fields like business and politics being criticized for qualities for which their male counterparts are praised.

Bookish: At times, Xifeng’s motivation shifts from wanting to claim her destiny to wanting that destiny because of the freedom it promises. Do you think that, in a way, chaining herself to her fate means losing her freedom?

JCD: Absolutely. There’s an irony in that. The thing about Xifeng is that she doesn’t understand the concept of power. She believes that being Empress is all about being front and center, invincible, and feared and loved and respected—which it partly is, in this world. But it’s also a position of responsibility, in that she is tying herself to the fates of everyone involved: She would be the Emperor’s wife, the Crown Prince’s stepmother, and the ruler of everyone in Feng Lu, for whom she is expected to care and govern. It’s a case of not looking at the long haul, the whole picture. She’s charging toward something she does not fully understand yet.

Bookish: The Crimson Army is an army made up entirely of women who live in the mountains. These fighters are only briefly mentioned; will we get to see them in future installments?

JCD: Yes! Without giving away too much, you will find out a lot more about them in book two!

Bookish: Can you give us three words that describe book two?

JCD: Epic adventure quest!

Julie C. Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.

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Cover Design 101: It’s the Little Things that Matter

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Some readers may think that designing a cover for a graphic novel is easy. After all, you’ve got an entire book of artwork at your fingertips. But the process is incredibly complex, and sometimes the smallest details make the biggest impact. We’ve invited our friend Andrew Arnold, the associate art director at First Second, back to share his behind-the-scenes secrets about designing the cover for Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina.

Click each image for a closer look at the design!

It’s a lot of fun to look back on a book cover design process, especially one as near and dear to my heart as Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina. I’m always surprised by which of the initial ideas make their way onto the final cover. Often times, they’re “little things” that didn’t stand out to me in the beginning stages of the process—like the way an image is cropped, the placement of the type, the positioning of a character, etc. So not only is revisiting the process fun, it reinforces how important it is to listen to your gut and trust your initial design instincts—you’re probably onto something!

As I flipped through the various stages of the Pashmina cover design, I noticed that a lot of those “little things” from the earlier parts of the process made their way onto the final cover. For my last guest post, I started from the top—sketches, then inks, colors, etc—but this time around, I thought it might be fun to start with the final image and then take you through the process so you can search for all those little details yourself. So here you go—the final cover of Pashmina!

My goal with this cover, as with all the covers I work on, was to draw in readers and tell them a little about what’s inside the book. Pashmina tells the story of an Indian-American girl who learns about her family’s history with the help of her mother’s magical pashmina. We knew we wanted the cover image to capture a few things: our strong female lead character and her magical (and mysterious) pashmina.

The first step was to ask Nidhi if she had any specific concepts in mind. I’ve found that providing too much art direction at the outset can really stifle an artist’s creativity. It’s also a lot of fun to hear an artist’s initial ideas—I’ve seen them come in the form of a written description, a sketch, or even a loose doodle on a cocktail napkin. If an artist isn’t sure where to start, that’s when I start brainstorming and we begin a more collaborative process. In the case of Pashmina, Nidhi had several starting points that helped shape our direction. Here are a few of them:

As you can see, we kept these early stage sketches very loose. If you get too caught up in the details at this point, you can miss the bigger picture! And, if you look closely, you might see a few things that appear on the final cover! (Like Pri’s windblown hair.)

After some back and forth between Nidhi, her editor, and myself, we eliminated some of the above directions and decided to explore compositions with a full-figure image of Pri:

While Nidhi was doing that, I explored some other ideas:

The thinking here was to revisit the magical component by exploring ideas with and without Shakti. (She’s an important part of the story.) Again, if you look closely, you’ll see a thing or two that appear on the final cover.

Seeing Nidhi’s previous round of images got us thinking about the palette. The orange and black felt a little too much like Halloween (which is a big no-no unless you are working on a Halloween book!), so Nidhi explored a different direction—one that felt a little more fiery and picked up the color of Pri’s pashmina.

We discussed this general direction and, in the end, felt that we needed to show more of a magical connection between Pri and her pashmina. With that in mind, we explored several more directions:

There were some strong options here, but they needed to be developed further:

As you can see, those little things aren’t as a little anymore. One pattern is now easily seen against the background, while another rests within the pashmina itself. The windblown pashmina—while a little different in each composition—is still prominent throughout, and Pri’s gaze is clearly looking away from the viewer; she’s either looking up or off to the side.

In the end, we settled on the following direction. You’ll see that Nidhi supplied some brand new art for Pri and her pashmina (up until this point, we’d been re-purposing interior art to build the cover directions.) Once the general layout was nailed down and the artwork was finalized, we wanted to really zero in on type treatments….

…Before turning our attention to the full jacket design with the spine and flaps!

And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed taking a look at this cover’s evolution, and picking up on all those “little things” that crept their way into the final design. It just goes to show you that sometimes the little things really go a long way!

Happy creating!

Andrew Arnold is one of the co-authors of the Adventures in Cartooning series and moonlights [during the day] as a book designer for a children’s book publisher. His work has appeared in several publications, including Nickelodeon Magazine, Cambridge University Press, and Roaring Brook Press. Originally from Houston, TX, Andrew currently lives in New York City.

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Library Reads

LibraryReads List

November 2017

LibraryReads has announced the top ten books available in November that librarians across the country love. You can request or wish for the featured titles below on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the LibraryReads site.

If you are a librarian, you can nominate titles for the LibraryReads list via NetGalley – learn more here!

Additional LibraryReads titles:

The City of Brass: A Novel, by S. A. Chakraborty
(Harper Voyager, 9780062678102)

The Library at the Edge of the World: A Novel, by Felicity Hayes-McCoy
(Harper Perennial, 9780062663726)

Future Home of the Living God: A Novel, by Louise Erdrich
(Harper, 9780062694058)

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Reader Spotlight

Blog name: Feed Your Fiction Addiction
Blog URL: http://feedyourfictionaddiction.com
Your name: Nicole Hewitt

A nice place to start is with your blogger origin story – how did Feed Your Fiction Addiction get started?

I actually had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started blogging four and a half years ago. I thought, “Hey, I love books and I like to review them on Goodreads, so why not start a blog?” It was really something of a whim. I had no idea at the time how much of my passion, time and energy would eventually go into blogging, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way!

On your blog you mention that you homeschool your three children – do you pull from your experience as a book blogger (and vice versa) when creating your lesson plans?

I do! I actually taught a Blogging 101 class at our homeschool co-op last year, which was great fun! I think my students were surprised at how much work it takes to create a high-quality blog and to find a readership, but it was a fantastic chance for them to get acquainted with the blogging world. I also often teach book reviewing in my language arts classes. I find that reviews can be a great way to get them thinking about the things in a book that got them excited—and the things that left them wanting more. It’s also surprisingly difficult for students to write a review without spoilers, so that’s a skill in itself. 😊

We love your “Bite-Sized Reviews” feature, where you review four different books with a star rating and what you thought, briefly, about each. Can you explain a little bit more about this feature?

Bite-sized reviews are great because they give a brief snapshot of the book and my thoughts on it without going into too much detail (and let’s face it, sometimes less is more). This can be especially handy for books where it’s really best for readers to go in relatively blind—I want to give my feelings about the book without giving away too much. I also often use this review style for extremely popular backlist books because many people already have their own impressions of them and I’m just adding in my two cents, so to speak. Sometimes I just have too much to say and nothing but my standard review format will do, but there are times when a bite-sized review is just perfect.

Are there particular subgenres that you prefer or find more interesting at the moment? Are there any trends that you are excited to see come or go?

Right now, I’m loving topical contemporaries that send you on an emotional roller coaster—things like If There’s No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout or What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum. These are the types of books that tackle tough issues in such a way that you can’t help but relate to their main characters.

As far as things I’d like to see go… well, there are always plenty of tropes in YA that get overused. I’ve recently been reading the upcoming Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me by Carrie DiRisio, which hilariously highlights a lot of them (like the “perfect” star-athlete boyfriend who falls for the quiet, bookish girl who has no idea just how wonderful she really is). I will say that a talented author can make almost any trope work, but when a book is packed full of them… I could definitely do without that.

  

Which upcoming Teens & YA book(s) on NetGalley are you the most excited about recommending to your followers?

I HIGHLY recommend Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed. It looks like you can only Wish for it right now on NetGalley, but I think absolutely everyone should go and do that right now… Really, I’ll wait…

I have to admit that I tend to read books close to their release dates, so I haven’t read a lot of others that are still upcoming, but I can tell you about two others that I’m really excited to read. First off, my contact at Disney has me super intrigued when it comes to Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne. She says it’s one of her favorite books of the year, and I can’t wait to read it! Then there’s Otherworld by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, which looks fantastic—plus I just love Jason Segel. (Who doesn’t?)

    

Lightning Round!

Your favorite character in a book or series:

August Flynn from the Monsters of Verity Duology by Victoria Schwab.

The one book you wish was never-ending:

Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

Your favorite two publishers for Teens & YA titles:

HarperTeen & Disney-Hyperion.

Your favorite snack(s) to eat while reading:

Gum (though I guess I technically don’t eat it).

And to finish off our interview, what is the last book that made you smile?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (which was technically a reread via audiobook, but I think it counts).

Thanks so much, Nicole, for spending time with us and answering our questions! 

Please make sure to check out the Feed Your Fiction Addiction blog and more Teens & YA on NetGalley!

Would you like to nominate someone to be featured in our Reader Spotlight series? Fill out this form!

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Happy Birthday, Authors!: A Look at Writers Born in October

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Do you share a birthday with your favorite author? Here, we take a look at novelists, poets, journalists, and other writers born during the month of October.

October 1
Faith Baldwin (1893)
Daniel Boorstin (1914)

October 2
Wallace Stevens (1879)
Graham Greene (1904)

October 3
Thomas Wolfe (1900)
James Herriot (1916)
Gore Vidal (1925)

October 4
Damon Runyon (1880)
Jackie Collins (1937)
Anne Rice (1941)

October 5
Václav Havel (1936)
Neil deGrasse Tyson (1958)

October 6
Caroline Gordon (1895)

October 7
Amiri Baraka (1934)
Thomas Keneally (1935)
Dan Savage (1964)

October 8
Frank Herbert (1920)
R.L. Stine (1943)

October 9
Jill Ker Conway (1934)

October 10
Harold Pinter (1930)

October 11
Elmore Leonard (1925)

October 12
Ann Petry (1908)
Alice Childress (1920)
Robert Coles (1929)

October 13
Conrad Richter (1890)
Arna Bontemps (1902)
Frank D. Gilroy (1925)

October 14
Katherine Mansfield (1888)
e.e. Cummings (1894)

October 15
Virgil (70 B.C.)
P.G. Wodehouse (1881)
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1917)
Italo Calvino (1923)
Roxane Gay (1974)

October 16
Noah Webster (1758)
Oscar Wilde (1854)
Eugene O’Neill (1888)
Günter Grass (1927)

October 17
Nathanael West (1903)
Arthur Miller (1915)

October 18
Wendy Wasserstein (1950)
Terry McMillan (1951)

October 19
Leigh Hunt (1784)
John le Carré (1931)

October 20
Thomas Hughes (1822)
Arthur Rimbaud (1854)
Art Buchwald (1925)
Robert Pinsky (1940)

October 21
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772)
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929)
Carrie Fisher (1956)

October 22
Doris Lessing (1919)

October 23
Michael Crichton (1942)
Laurie Halse Anderson (1961)
Augusten Burroughs (1965)

October 24
Denise Levertov (1923)

October 25
John Berryman (1914)
Anne Tyler (1941)
Zadie Smith (1975)

October 26
Beryl Markham (1902)
Pat Conroy (1945)

October 27
Dylan Thomas (1914)
Sylvia Plath (1932)
Fran Lebowitz (1950)

October 28
Evelyn Waugh (1903)

October 29
James Boswell (1740)
Lee Child (1954)

October 30
Ezra Pound (1885)

October 31
John Keats (1795)
Dick Francis (1920)

Know of an author who should be on this list? Leave a comment and let us know!

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NetGalley Author Interview: Jonathan Stroud

Born in Bedford, England, Jonathan Stroud self-published his first work at age eight. After several years of working as an editor in London, Stroud “finally took the plunge,” and ventured into the world of publishing as a writer in his own right.

Watch as Jonathan Stroud talks with us about the final installment of his Lockwood & Co. series, The Empty Grave, his approach to the craft of writing and what’s next.

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IndieNext

Indie Next List

November edition

The American Booksellers Association has announced the selections for the November Indie Next list, drawn from the recommendations of indie booksellers throughout the US. You can request many of these titles on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the ABA site

If you are a bookseller, you can nominate titles for the Indie Next list via NetGalley, and receive special access to new galleys via the Digital White Box program. Sign up today!

Additional Indie Next titles:

Wonder Valley: A Novel, by Ivy Pochoda
(Ecco, 9780062656353)

It Devours!: A Welcome to Night Vale Novel, by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
(Harper Perennial, 9780062476050)

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels, by Joe Hill
(William Morrow, 9780062663115)

Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker, by Gregory Maguire
(William Morrow, 9780062684387)

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, by Juli Berwald
(Riverhead Books, 9780735211261)

Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy, by Michael Perry
(Harper, 9780062230560)

We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True, by Gabrielle Union
(Dey Street Books, 9780062693983)

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Reader Spotlight

Blog name: The Indigo Quill
Blog URL: http://www.theindigoquill.com
Your name: Lis Ann Morehart

A nice place to start is with your library origin story – when did you decide to become a Youth Services Librarian? Can you briefly explain your role and your favorite aspect of your job?

That’s a great question! I have always loved books, education, and the power of imagination. When I was a kid, I’d ask my parents to drop me off at school 30 minutes early so I could roam the library and pick out my next read. My friends and I started our own book club, which became a sort of competition. From Elementary through High School, my librarians knew my name.

When I began college, I was torn between majoring in Music and English.  At first I chose music, but then I got to Music Theory III and decided it was time to switch gears (think of “Chemistry” class being the point where Biology majors drop out…that’s Music Theory III for Music majors!). I have so many hobbies, it took me a while to decide what I really wanted to do. In 2013, I started The Indigo Quill, and that is when I decided to become a librarian. The more I researched what a Youth Services Librarian did, I realized all of my hobbies and passions fit into this one vocation.

My job, in my opinion, is the best job in the world. I oversee ages 0 to early 20s and work with kids and teens through every phase of their lives. As someone who doesn’t sit still well, my job is always changing, and I love that. I keep up with the best practices for providing not just literacy, but also life skills and development for my patrons. I am in charge of collection development, program planning and execution, bookmobile services, volunteers, outreach, and anything else pertaining to children and teens. I am also the caregiver for our three library guinea pigs, Dobby, Dougal, and Nimbus. That’s just an added bonus. 🙂

Can you speak a little bit about your journey to becoming a book blogger? Do you find that reviewing books helps you better recommend them to students?

I have been a blogger since I was in the junior high, but I wanted to book blog for years before I finally did it. It wasn’t until I had read the end of a series I had followed for nearly a decade that I decided to start my blog. I waited almost ten years for this couple to get together, and then they ended up marrying other people! I won’t name any names, but I was so upset I had to find others who felt the same way. Thus, The Indigo Quill was born. Once I started, I was suddenly connected to several authors and publishers and the entire experience became much more than I ever anticipated. Here I was starting a blog so I had an outlet to complain expecting nothing to come of it, and aside from helping me become a better reader, writer, and editor, it assisted me in landing my last two jobs.

Reviewing has absolutely helped me better recommend books to people. It provides me navigation for picking the right ones to order for the library, and aids me in choosing books for storytime, Tween Book Club, and Teen Book Talk.

What are your favorite genres to read and review? Are there any upcoming book(s) on NetGalley that you’re excited about recommending?

I love Juvenile Fantasy, because you will find the greatest depths of imagination there. It keeps me young and aware of life’s possibilities. But I also enjoy balancing that out with Non-Fiction. I grew up with a fascination for learning things, so whether it’s a biography, cookbook, cultural, or health, I almost always emerge from the pages enlightened.

It actually released earlier this month, but I recommend the book, Women Who Dared by Linda Skeers. If you love books that empower women in history, this title is distinguished and comprehensive. Although it doesn’t provide extensive details (especially the less glamorous ones) for each gal, it introduces women from all over the world in a way that doesn’t intimidate young readers.

Do you have a favorite moment when you provided someone with a book?

At the beginning of Summer Reading, I had a parent who told me her son, who is about 10 years old, hates reading. Every time a parent tells me that, I get a little overly excited. Challenge accepted! 9 times out of 10, the child just needs to be introduced to the right book. They just need to discover something in their “language.” Sometimes that’s My Little Pony, other times it’s Minecraft. This particular child I directed to our graphic novels. He was so excited to find Pokemon books! He had the entire series read by the end of the Summer, and has now moved on to our Juvenile Fiction. He was one of my top readers for the Summer Reading Program this Summer, and I couldn’t be more proud. Sometimes you just need to find the right key.

What is the most requested title in your library?

Anything by James Patterson. We have pages of waiting lists for his books, and they won’t see the shelves for at least 6 months after we receive them.

Lightning Round!

Your blog in two sentences:

First impressions and occasional adventures by a Youth Services Librarian. The days of suffering alone at the hands of a good, or horrible, story are over!

Your all-time favorite Middle Grade book:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Your favorite character in a book or series:

Hermione Granger is without a doubt my literary parallel.

And to finish off our interview, if you could have coffee (…or something stiffer) with any author, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

Neil Gaiman. He is absolutely brilliant on and off the pages.

Thanks so much, Lis Ann, for spending time with us and answering our questions! 

Please make sure to check out The Indigo Quill blog plus more Middle Grade and Children’s Fiction on NetGalley!

Would you like to nominate someone to be featured in our Reader Spotlight series? Fill out this form!

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Kate Moretti’s Favorite Modern Whodunits with Unreliable Narrators

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

The best mysteries keep readers on the edge of their seats from page one and cause them to doubt their own theories about who killed who. This is certainly the case with The Blackbird SeasonKate Moretti’s gripping latest novel. A young girl has disappeared, last seen with a married high school baseball coach. He claims to be innocent, but even his wife doubts his tale. To celebrate the book’s release, Moretti put together a list of her favorite modern whodunits.

When I started writing The Blackbird Season, my main goal was to keep the reader off their game and unbalanced. I wanted readers to constantly second guess themselves and spend the entirety of the book wondering “wait, did they do it?” I didn’t specifically set out to write an unreliable narrator (Nate says he didn’t do it and well, you’ll have to read to find out!). But I wanted to play with the idea of perception, the notion that guilt and innocence aren’t as black and white as Law & Order makes us think they are.

I was largely inspired by the modern “whodunit”. Recent books by female authors are incredibly rich and layered, and often it’s impossible to predict the endings. They are character driven (which I love!) and often involve family life, kids, husbands, wives, neighbors and friends.

The Girl on the Train

Rachel Watson is the ultimate unreliable narrator! Rachel is a black-out drunk who is barely still functioning. She watches a couple every day from her train window, a couple that happens to live next door to her ex and his new family. Readers will ask themselves a million questions: What’s with the bundle of clothes? What is going on with her memory? Did she kill Megan? Who killed Megan? I confess I spent most of the novel pretty sure that Rachel killed Megan. But the end… we’ll just say it was a surprise.

Big Little Lies

There’s a PTA party and a murder, or at least you think it’s a murder. Honestly, with this one, you spend most of the book wondering who, if anyone, has died. The plot winds backwards, putting suburban unrest on full display, and peppered with ludicrous (and sometimes hilarious) police interviews. There’s a light humor throughout the whole book but you have no idea who is dead, or who killed them. Even the minor players are developed enough to be doubted!

I Let You Go

A woman is grieving alone in a coastal cabin. She grieves for her son, who was killed in a car accident. But her narrative is disjointed and while emotional, it’s also detached. Too much so. Something doesn’t add up. Then comes the twist and the revelations and we are left to wonder, page after page, who is guilty? What really happened that night? How fine is the line between guilt and innocence? My kind of book!

You Will Know Me

This book is an intimate look inside the world of elite gymnastics. Megan Abbott deftly navigates a family where the parents have sunk their time, energy, money, and entire lives into the success of their child. When a member of the community is killed in a car accident that may or may not be an accident, suddenly everyone is a suspect. I spent the entire story flip-flopping between who I think did it, sometimes changing my mind mid-chapter. The greatest part of this novel, for me, was how easily the reader could follow the family down this disturbing, insular rabbit hole.

Emma in the Night

Two sisters disappear and three years later only one returns. She comes back with fantastical stories about a mysterious island and kidnapping, but the family psychiatrist is suspicious. Did Cass kidnap or kill her sister? Immediately, the reader realizes that something is not right with the Tanner family, specifically the mother. There is a thread of narcissism woven thoroughly throughout their lives and the dysfunction is uncomfortable and disturbing. I spent page after page wondering: Was it the mother? The father? Cass herself? What exactly happened that night at the beach? There is no way to guess the ending of Emma, but the reader will spend a fair amount of time trying!

Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, Binds That Tie, and While You Were Gone. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Find out more at KateMoretti.com or follow her on Twitter: @KateMoretti1 or Facebook: /KateMorettiWriter.

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