Friday, November 27, 2015

5 Authors For Your Black Friday Shopping List

Isn’t Thanksgiving the best? I'd be a big fat fatty if I ate like I did yesterday more than once every 365 days, but I do wish we had more than one designated day per year to reflect on all the things we're thankful for. 

While hubs and I were cuddled up in our food coma last night, discussing how grateful we are for our cozy little corner of life, we got on the subject of books. We bond over books in the Hawkins hizzle. I read everything I can get my hands on. He reads mostly graphic novels and comics. Sometimes there's an overlap in our tastes, and I love the conversations we have when that happens.

If you're reading this, babe, you're way more Prince than Beast.

Since both of our boys were born, we've read to them before bed. And we’ll keep doing that until they get old enough to think we're lame. Characters become household names around here—we consider them friends, or enemies, or arguing points. (Nobody in my house will ever agree with me about Peeta Mellark, but I don't care. I still hate him.)

2015 has been a great year for discovering absolute author gems, so I thought I'd share some of my book gratitude with y'all. Of all the books I've read since January (32 according to Goodreads, but I know there's more since I only log the ones I love), I've chosen the top 5 authors I’m most thankful I read this year, in no particular order. Complete with buy links, for your shopping convenience. Add them to your Black Friday list. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

1. Jaye Robin Brown

I read No Place To Fall right after the holidays last year. What an amazing debut for a lovely author. I still think about Amber and Will every time I hear an Avett Brothers song (which is often, because I adore the Avetts). The setting felt like home. I grew up in upstate South Carolina, so I spent a lot of weekends on those western North Carolina trails with friends. The characters seemed like old friends. Their struggles were authentic and relatable. The beautiful sense of nostalgia hit me right in the feelers. 

I loved this book so much I handed it to a complete stranger in Barnes & Noble a couple of months ago. I grinned like a maniac while I snapped a picture of it on the shelf so I could tweet it at Jaye, but the lady standing next to me gave me a funny look. Because I care way too much about what people think of me, I took it off the shelf and handed it to her while I explained. Somehow, that turned into me gushing about how awesome it was for an awkward amount of time. Oh, the irony of acting like a complete creep to convince someone I’m not a creep. Long story short, she bought the book. That's when I discovered my superhero alter-ego: I am Book Fangirl.

Seriously, though, the B&N lady probably bought it because she was terrified of what would happen if she didn't take my suggestion. I can be... passionate. I bet she wishes she knew my name so she could get more book recommendations from me now, though. Just saying.

The companion novella for No Place To Fall is called Will’s Story, and it releases April 5, 2016. Not to brag, but I already pre-ordered it. You should, too.

2. Neil Gaiman

Yes, I know this guy has been around for a long time, and I'm probably the last person on earth who waited until 2015 to read his work. But in the event that you’re reading this post after crawling from under a rock, I am going to trumpet, anyway. Just for you.

Bod Owens went on a road-trip vacation with us to Sedona this summer. Every night before bed, we read The Graveyard Book aloud to the boys until midnight or later. Maybe it was the energy vortices of Sedona, but this book sprinkled magic on our little family. Total bonding book. The four of us sat in a café at The Grand Canyon talking about the actors we’d cast as characters. (Obviously Alan Rickman should be Silas.) It was such a special experience. I had to choke back tears when I read the final chapter. Hubs tried to pretend it was allergies, but we were in the desert; there was nothing to be allergic to. As soon as we realized there was a graphic novel version, we bought that, too.

I tried to follow it up with M is for Magic to read to the kids at bedtime, but uh… that one’s not really good for that. The cover and title fools one into thinking it’s little-kid-appropriate. Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book of creepy short stories, but there’s a graphic description of a troll penis that popped up (heh heh) out of nowhere in the one titled “Troll Bridge.” I had to fake a coughing fit so I could regroup and skip that part without the kids noticing. Could have been super awkward.

American Gods was a killer read (see what I did there?) and a wild ride. Also not for kids. I stayed up so late reading it that I overslept the next morning and made my kids late for school. Oops.

I wish I'd read Gaiman sooner. Currently tearing through his list.

3. Matt de la Peña

This is yet another one of those how-have-I-not-read-this-author-before-2015?! scenarios. 

When I stumbled upon his short story “Angels in the Snow” in the My True Love Gave To Me compilation last winter, I made it my mission to read everything he’s ever published. I could easily make this entire blog post a love letter to his characters, because they are worthy. But for the sake of avoiding Book Fangirl creep status, I will attempt to keep it brief.

We Were Here made me ugly cry. Best book I’ve read all year, hands down. I bought it twice (Kindle & paperback). I read it twice. I will probably read it again before the end of the year. The thing I love most about de la Peña's characters is that the line between hero and villain is barely penciled in. Everyone sits in a gray area. They're all so beautifully fucking human. I don’t know how to write a synopsis about all the things that wrecked me about this book without spoilers, so I’ll just say READ IT. Enjoy the poetic acupuncture.

I Will Save You made me feel like a genius, because I figured out a pretty big reveal halfway into the book, and then I raced through it to prove myself right. Mental illness was drawn with a deft hand in this story, which was especially impressive. I hereby challenge you to read it and come talk to me when you get to the 50% mark. 

I adored Mexican WhiteBoy so much that I’m going to put it in my former-baseball-player Hubs’s Christmas stocking (and make him read it so we can talk about it). He played baseball in college and did a stint in the minors, so I have zero doubts he will dig Danny and his passion for the game as much as I did. I'll give it to my 10-year-old when he gets a little older.

Ball Don’t Lie made me care about basketball, and I haven’t given a shit about basketball since the ’92 Bulls. (Am I the only one still mourning Michael Jordan’s retirement?) Anyway, Sticky made me care. I recoiled from daylight after finishing that book, like I’d been sitting in that smelly dark rec center the whole time. The book hangover left me emotionally bankrupt. Also, apparently this one has been made into a movie (with Ludacris and Nick Cannon!), but the producer has yet to release it. Um. Puff puff give, Hollywood. We need this movie in our lives.

The Living and its sequel, The Hunted, were both one-sitting reads. The characters are living, breathing works of art. I just needed Carmen to be my BFF, but I also kind of wanted to steal Shy from her. Predicament! Also, I will probably never get on a cruise ship EVER after reading this. It’s like a modern-day cross between Titanic and Outbreak, except with better characters & a Walking Dead thriller-y vibe. The plot details are flawless without being forced. As a matter of fact, Romero disease intrigued me so much at the beginning of The Living, I stopped reading to Google it, convinced it was some hemorrhagic filoviridae virus I’d never heard of. I’m a nurse, y’all. I can’t even watch Grey’s because it’s so far-fetched on medical details most of the time, but this badass made up a disease and made me think it was real. I bow down. Seriously.

And finally, Last Stop On Market Street is a precious picture book that my kids adore. My 4 year old wails, “Read CJ again, Mama!” when he’s trying to avoid bedtime. Hubs and I have it memorized. We can read it without looking at the pages at this point. My 10-year-old's assessment of it was, "That's kind of deep, Mom." Huzzah! He gets it. It’s another family bonding book, which makes me extra grateful.

So, yeah. I'm a fan. Patiently waiting for this author to write more books.

Shut up and take my money.

4. Emma Mills

I devoured Emma’s debut, First & Then, after two of my favorite people in the world recommended it to me. Holy crap, it was hilarious. And sweet. And heartfelt. And had a Tim Riggins-esque football player love interest. SOLD.

You know I can't write a blog without a Riggins gif.

Pretty much every other line made me squeal and highlight it and wish I’d written it myself. So swoony. There was this one line about how football was a religion and people were “baptized by the floodlights” and I just went…

I loved sweet little Foster. I wanted to cuddle him to my bosom and tell him everything would be okay. I wanted to snap Ezra in the hiney with a rolled-up towel, locker-room-style. I wanted to punch Cas in the throat (I had a Cas when I was in high school, too). Devon was the kind of girl I could root for. And I did, the whole way.

If you want to laugh and swoon and cry a little bit, go get this book.

As a side note, Emma Mills has a hilarious Vlog here. (Thanks for telling me about it, Michella!)

5. Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is a bit of a diversion since the other authors I listed write fiction, but I can’t neglect to mention Between The World & Me, and not only because it just won the National Book Award for non-fiction. I firmly believe that everyone should read it. (And if you don’t take my word for it, Toni Morrison says so, too.)

I walked through a world that didn’t belong to me as I read this beautiful letter from a father to his son. Coates writes in such a way that even a person with a massive shortage of imagination and/or empathy could settle into his shoes. He’s a poet, and it shows. It rattled me in a necessary way, and made me want to do something to change all the ugliness in the world, the lies we all tell ourselves. Until we, as a society, figure out what that something is, I’ll just keep telling people to read this book. 

Read this book. And pass it along to a young person. Or any person.

So, there you have it, folks! 5 Authors for your Black Friday shopping list.

Every single one will be an auto-buy for me from now on. Getting published is a Sisyphean task. I’m so grateful these authors didn’t give up, because the world needs their words. They inspire me. They’ll inspire you, too.

Now go forth and one-click.