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The 25 Best New Thriller Books of 2019

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I think if I could only read one category of fiction for the rest of my life, it would be mystery and thrillers, which are often combined under the umbrella term “crime fiction.” I love stories that pull me in, make me think, and keep me flipping pages. Those kinds of reading experiences are the most vivid for me, the times when I would willingly ignore everything—work, bedtime, blogging—to finish a book. And I’ve read some amazing new thrillers in 2019. This list of the best new thrillers from 2019 will stack your to-be-read (TBR) pile to the ceiling with sensational suspense, pulse-pounding pacing, and irresistible intrigue. I’ll save new mysteries from 2019 for another time (and add more to this list at the end of the year). And now for the best new suspense books!

(This list is unranked and organized alphabetically by title.)

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

A diverse spy thriller? Sign me up! In Lauren Wilkinson’s American Spy, a young Black woman feels out of place in the white-male culture of the CIA in the Cold War years of the 1980s. When she gets a chance to go undercover to infiltrate a radical political leader in the Caribbean island of Martinique, Marie knows this may be her one shot to be taken seriously…if she can keep her loyalties clean and romantic life nonexistent. Of course, we all know that’s easier said than done. American Spy charts Marie’s thrilling experience, a flirtation with danger and with love.

How to read it: Purchase American Spy on Amazon and add it on Goodreads.

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The writer team behind the mega-hit thriller The Wife Between Us are back with a twisty new read. In this novel, Jessica is a 28-year-old makeup artist looking for extra cash. She signs up for a psychology study on ethics and morality at a local university that is under the direction of enigmatic and manipulative psychiatrist Dr. Shields. And then, well, and then things get out of hand. My favorite psychological thrillers actually incorporate psychology into them, and An Anonymous Girl is aces with that. See why Goodreads reviewers have praised An Anonymous Girl as “Loved it! Devoured it!” and “Twisted. Intense. Deviously fun.

How to read it: Purchase An Anonymous Girl on Amazon and add it on Goodreads.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty’s The Chain hooks you in the chilling first pages. Don Winslow’s front-cover blurb—”The Chain is Jaws for parents”—accurately describes the sensational premise. Rachel is driving to a doctor’s appointment where she could face news that her cancer has returned. Then she gets a sobering call that her child has been kidnapped and can only be released if Rachel pays $25,000 in Bitcoin to “The Chain”…oh, and kidnap another child and keep the Chain going. Yep! Trust me, clear your schedule for this thriller with unbearable tension and full-throttle emotion.

How to read it: Purchase The Chain on Amazon and add it on Goodreads.

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

Take note: this grisly novel is not for the weak of heart. But if you’re a fan of the crime show The Killing, you’ll want to be sure to check out this novel by the show’s creator, Soren Sveistrup. This Swedish thriller features a creepy criminal deemed “The Chestnut Man” for the chestnut doll he leaves behind at his victims’ gory murder scenes. When investigators find a fingerprint match to a politician’s daughter who went missing and was murdered a year ago, they are doubly intrigued. Is it a fluke or is there a connection? And what—if anything—can be done to prevent another murder by the psychopath terrorizing Copenhagen? New York Times bestselling thriller expert Jeffrey Deaver praised The Chestnut Man as “This might just be the thriller of the year. The Chestnut Man grips you from the opening page and never lets go.”

How to read it: Purchase The Chestnut Man on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Club by Takis Würger

I’ve already expressed how much I loved Takis Würger’s The Club in my review of the German thriller in translation on the blog. This cerebral thriller is told from several perspectives but focuses most on Hans, an orphaned German boxer whose distant Aunt Alex recruits him to come to Cambridge University, where she works, and go undercover to infiltrate an exclusive gentleman’s club and help identify a criminal. I loved this novel’s layered suspense, almost clinical prose, and killer twist at the end.

How to read it: Purchase The Club on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Conviction by Denise Mina

I’ve had my eye on Denise Mina’s police procedurals for years now, but this summer I had the pleasure of picking up her new standalone thriller, Conviction. I tore through this book in just a few days, eager to find out what our unreliable narrator Anna would do next. After Anna gets shocking news that breaks up her marriage, she gets sucked into a true crime podcast that implicates her old friend in a puzzling murder. Anna sets off on an adventure to clear his name, even though it means she’s heading straight back into the past she hoped would stay buried.

How to read it: Purchase Conviction on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Current by Tim Johnston

Fans of Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), Tana French, and literary thrillers will want to add Tim Johnston’s second novel, The Current, to their TBR. In The Current, two friends accidentally drive off the road and into the freezing winter waters of the Black Root River in rural Minnesota. While one girl dies, the other young woman survives. Finding that another girl died in the same river under mysterious circumstances twenty years before makes her determined to find answers…what if the killer is still out there? Who will they target next? Like Lehane, Johnston focuses on the shady secrets lingering in small communities ready to ignite at the first spark.

How to read it: Purchase The Current on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Another thriller about the unraveling of a community after a tragedy is Julia Phillips’ debut, Disappearing Earth. This psychological suspense novel is a slow burning story that builds towards an astonishing climax. Two sisters, one eight and the other eleven, go missing one day. The girls were playing along the shore along the northern Kamchatka peninsula in the Russian Far East. Disappearing Earth covers the year after their disappearance, zeroing in on the growing tension among the family of the victims, the investigators, and the town.

How to read it: Purchase Disappearing Earth on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

This summer, I had the great pleasure of reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None for the first time. This classic thriller was like catnip for me, especially because I love “locked-door mysteries.” You know, the stories where an impossible crime must be the work of a short list of people. And I loved Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party for exactly that reason. Foley is definitely channeling Agatha Christie (and Ruth Ware!) in this novel about a group of friends vacationing on an estate in the remote Scottish Highlands around New Years. The group become snowbound when a massive blizzard cuts them off from civilization. When the first body is found on New Year’s Day, the fragile peace between them shatters as old resentments and rivalries mean anyone could be the murderer—anyone.

How to read it: Purchase The Hunting Party on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik

If you love the non-stop adrenaline of Harlan Coben’s thrillers, be sure to pick up Erica Ferencik’s Into the Jungle. This adventure story tells the gripping story of how Lily Bushwold makes it out of the Bolivian jungle alive. Lily’s taken an English teaching job in the South American country but soon grows disenchanted just as she falls for Omar, a hunter. When Omar’s young nephew gets killed by a jaguar, Omar beckons Lily into the search for justice, taking her into the remotest corner of the country. Ferencik’s novel is addictive and totally original.

How to read it: Purchase Into the Jungle on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Love a good legal thriller? Same! I loved Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, an emotional, thought-provoking read that kept me turning pages long after bedtime. A mother stands accused of murdering her special needs son and another parent after a deadly explosion in an experimental treatment hyperbaric chamber. Caught in the middle are the Korean immigrant couple who owned the center, which they touted had healing powers, a survivor, and the upper-class community. What I loved about this novel was it got you thinking and tested your ethics. Don’t be surprised to watch your views change over the course of this excellent debut thriller.

How to read it: Purchase Miracle Creek on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Readers familiar with Edgar Award-winning novelist Laura Lippman can expect another noir-inspired hit with Lady in the Lake. Set in Baltimore circa 1966, Lippman’s novel follows Maddie, a former housewife, as she assists the Baltimore police with a murder. Maddie’s rewarded with a job at a city newspaper. When she tries to help solve the case of a missing woman who was killed and left in a park, Maddie gets in over her head. Her determination to find the murderer takes her through Baltimore, from the city’s power brokers to the fringe, as she herself gets lured further into danger. Lippman’s novel is already a New York Times bestseller, with Publishers Weekly writing in a starred review: “Lippman’s fans will devour this sophisticated crime novel, which captures the era’s zeitgeist while painting a striking portrait of unapologetic female ambition.”

How to read it: Purchase Lady in the Lake on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Love The Shining? Me, too! That’s why I’m so excited for Riley Sager’s latest thriller. In Lock Every Door, Jules is recently heartbroken and fully broke, so accepting an apartment sitting job at the historic Bartholomew hotel in Manhattan should be an escape and easy money. One morning, Jules’s new friend Ingrid, another apartment sitter, goes missing. Just hours before, she warned Jules about her misgivings about the Bartholomew. Ingrid’s disappearance unleashes a series of shocking events that catapult Jules into danger…and the truth about the Bartholomew. This deliciously suspenseful novel was a Book of the Month Club selection.

How to read it: Purchase Lock Every Door on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

You know how sometimes you just get a feeling like you’ll never be able to impress someone, no matter how hard you try? That’s how Lucy feels when she meets her mother-in-law, Diana, who seems completely unimpressed by her son’s future wife. While Diana’s is respected and loved in the community, Lucy always has a sense that there’s a dark side underneath. Then, five years later, Diana is found dead, supposedly a suicide, but the note she leaves behind suggests she had cancer. The problem? The autopsy shows no signs of cancer in her body…only poison.

How to read it: Purchase The Mother-in-Law on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife is a clever twist on the domestic thriller and a totally bananas fun read. In this brilliant novel, a picture-perfect suburban couple have an unusual shared interest: murder. How long can they keep it up? Brutal but with an underlying dark humor, My Lovely Wife is a gutsy work from Samantha Downing. Warning: once you pick it up, don’t expect to put it down until you cross the finish line in this wild thriller. This disturbing novel about two psychopaths is another book for Mindhunter fans (check out more suggestions from Broke by Books here).

How to read it: Purchase My Lovely Wife on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson

M.T. Edvardsson’s A Nearly Normal Family was another great Book of the Month Club pick this year. They really know their thrillers! And A Nearly Normal Family is a legal thriller you won’t want to miss. Set in Switzerland, Edvardsson’s novel is packed with twists. Eighteen-year-old Stella Sandell is accused of murdering a shady man fifteen years her senior. Stella’s parents reel from the shock. She comes from a nice, respected family… her father is a minister, and her mother an attorney. Together, they try to find the answers behind the puzzling allegations against their daughter…but are they ready for the truth?

How to read it: Purchase A Nearly Normal Family on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak

“I literally couldn’t stop reading,” Stephen King said of Anna Pitoniak’s Necessary People, a twisty, bendy, shocking thriller. And with a front-cover blurb from Lee Child, Necessary People has the blessing of one of the genre’s biggest stars. Violet and Stella are best friends who met in college. Stella came from a more sheltered, privileged, and wealthy world where her bad behavior could be overlooked, with Violet struggling to protect Stella. Finally, years later, Violet has worked her way up the ladder, relying on her talent and hard work, and is now a producer at a TV station. She’s free from Stella’s shadow, until Stella takes a job at the station, putting her directly in competition with Violet…but this time, their competitive friendship takes a dangerous turn.

How to read it: Purchase Necessary People on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Need by Helen Phillips

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly wrote that Helen Phillips’s The Need was: “An unforgettable tour de force that melds nonstop suspense, intriguing speculation, and perfectly crafted prose…”. And this creepy horror-thriller is absolutely a pulse-pounding work of psychological tension. In The Need, Molly and her two children are home alone when Molly thinks she hears an intruder. She lets it go, thinking she’s imagining things, as she has been doing lately, her nerves fraught thanks to the pressures of motherhood. But then Molly’s hears the footsteps again and catches an unmistakable glimpse of movement…

How to read it: Purchase The Need on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Night Before by Wendy Walker

Wendy Walker is one of the most exciting fresh talents in the thriller genre to come up in the last few years. The Night Before might be her best yet. Rosie is used to taking care of her troubled sister, Laura, picking up the pieces when Laura’s life falls apart again and again. So it’s not exactly a surprise when Laura shows up on Rosie’s doorstep, having fled New York City for their hometown quiet Connecticut community where Rosie now lives a seemingly perfect life. Against her sister’s advice, Laura goes out on a date with a guy she’s met online, but when she doesn’t show up, Rosie senses something is wrong. Rosie gets pulled into the mystery of what happened to her sister, racing against time to find her and pull her back from the brink, one more time.

How to read it: Purchase The Night Before on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora

Lauren Acampora’s cerebral debut, The Paper Wasp, is a treat. Acampora’s novel makes female friendship its theme. Abby feels her life is trapped; having failed to make it as an artist, she lives in her hometown and works at a grocery store. She finds refuge in following the career of her former best friend, Elise, now a famous Hollywood actress. At their high school reunion, Elise remarks on how much she enjoys Abby’s art, having found it online, and invites her to come to LA and visit her anytime she likes. Abby takes her up on the offer, plunging their friendship into a twisted new chapter. The Paper Wasp is psychological suspense at its best.

How to read it: Purchase The Paper Wasp on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Recursion by Blake Crouch

I never knew sci-fi thrillers were a thing until I picked up Blake Crouch’s new book, Recursion. And it didn’t take many pages until I totally got it—I was hooked! Crouch splits the story between two protagonists who eventually meet. There’s Barry Sutton, a New York City cop still reeling from the accidental death of his daughter years ago. Now divorced, Barry gets called to a scene of a woman attempting to commit suicide so she can escape suffering from the mysterious outbreak known as False Memory Syndrome. The other storyline follows Helena Smith, a brilliant scientist who helped create a device and procedure that would allow people to go back in time and erase bad memories with new experiences. Helena’s bankrolled by a wealthy Silicon Valley executive, but when he takes the breakthrough in a twisted new direction, Helena has to try to outrun the horrific consequences as they ripple through the world. Recursion was the right amount of science fiction for me…pair it with unrelenting tension and thought-provoking ethical questions, I understand why it’s been a bestseller.

How to read it: Purchase Recursion on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Jean Kwok’s Searching for Sylvie Lee is one of the books I’ve recommended the most this year on Book Riot’s Tailored Book Recommendations service. This novel asks the question: can we ever really know someone we love? That’s what Amy wonders when her older sister Sylvie disappears after going to see their dying grandmother in Switzerland. Both girls are the children of Chinese immigrants. When they were kids, Sylvie was sent off to live with distant relatives while their family got settled in America, an experience she has never said much about. Amy was too young to go, too. Now, in the wake of her sister’s disappearance, Amy must solve the mystery of the time Sylvie spent away from them to find where her sister is now.

How to read it: Purchase Searching for Sylvie Lee on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

I loved Alex Michaelides’s The Silent Patient even as it scared the bejesus out of me. This was another great thriller pick by Book of the Month. When I was reading this debut, I couldn’t put it down. I was so absorbed in the story. In The Silent Patient, we have two narrators. First we have the diary entries of Alicia, a talented artist married to a dreamy, acclaimed photographer. Second we hear from Theo, a psychologist who specializes in treating criminals. Theo takes an interest in Alicia when he hears she’s been arrested and jailed for the murder of her husband. Since she was discovered holding the weapon that killed her lover, Alicia has not spoken. Theo, who develops a fascination with this mysterious beauty, thinks he can make her talk and takes a job at the jail where Alicia is held. But as the story pushes forward, you get the sense that there’s more to their relationship than what it seems. I’ll leave it there, except to say that the final twist really cemented the deal for me: The Silent Patient was a full five stars.

How to read it: Purchase The Silent Patient on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

And last but definitely not least, Ruth Ware delivers another great thriller in The Turn of the Key. This clever take on Henry James’s famous ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, follows a nanny who takes a post with a rich family. But despite the awesome salary and accommodations, something seems off, including the creepy surveillance in the smart-home equipped house and the hints that the house might be haunted. When the novel opens, the nanny is writing to a high-profile lawyer from jail, begging him to take her case. To convince him that she didn’t murder one of the children, she’ll need to lay out the facts. But that’s easier said than done when she has trouble with the truth to begin with…

I’m reading this one now and can barely pull myself away from the story—in fact, I’m going to go read it now! Hope you’ve enjoyed the list!

How to read it: Purchase The Turn of the Key on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Which recent thrillers have you loved? Are any of these on your To-Be-Read list?

Book Review of PUMPKINHEADS by Rainbow Rowell

in Bookish and Book-Related/Reviews

Fall is definitely my favorite season. I live for the crisp, cool days. I love the gorgeous firebird spectrum of leaf colors. From my office window, I can see them dazzling the trees in the woods behind my house. I savor pumpkin spice coffee and cinnamon apple tea. And, of course, with a cozy blanket, a warm drink, and reading socks, nothing goes better with fall than reading. Which is why today I’m reviewing a new YA graphic novel that perfectly encapsulates autumn. That’s right, this is a book review of Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks.

I was super excited to see a new book from Rowell. This Omaha-based author is one of my favorite writers, consistently publishing satisfying books. Her YA novel Fangirl is one of my all-time favorites, and her novel Eleanor and Park is another favorite. I’ve also enjoyed her adult fiction, like Attachments and Landline. I remember reading a news post on Rowell’s website years ago saying that she was pairing up with artist Faith Erin Hicks to write a graphic novel. I liked Hicks’s novel, Friends with Boys, reviewed here on the blog many years ago. That announcement seems like that was ages ago, and I remember feeling like it was taking forever. Graphic novels take a long time to create, with all the art that is involved. But, as is so often the case in book world, with so many great new releases hitting the shelves each week, I forgot about the forthcoming graphic novel. Discovering it was actually coming out this fall, I ninja-requested it at the library and happily checked it out last week. Now I want to tell you all about it!

PLOT of Pumpkinheads

In Rainbow Rowell’s Pumpkinheads, we follow two friends, Josiah (a.k.a. “Josie”) and Deja. Josie and Deja have worked together at a pumpkin patch these last four years and have become buddies. The novel opens on their final evening of work at the pumpkin patch, which has the illustrious name: DeKnock’s World Famous Pumpkin Patch & Autumn Jamboree. Each year, the last night of work is Halloween night. The next day, on the first of November, everything gets stripped down and boxed away like it never happened.

What’s a pumpkin patch? These seasonal attractions are fun for young and old. Visitors enjoy games, a giant maze, hayrides, mini golf, a petting zoo, and plenty of autumnal treats, like kettle corn, pumpkin drinks, s’mores, and succotash.

There’s a similar place near me, Linvilla Orchards in Media, Pennsylvania.

Linvilla Orchards in Pennsylvania

They offer haunted hayrides, apple picking, pumpkin decorating, and more.

Some of the attractions at Linvilla Orchards

It’s a magical place, and I’m glad I had that as a reference.

Candy apple at Linvilla Orchards

If you’re curious, you can look pumpkin patches up online, and take a tour of a pumpkin patch farm on HGTV.

Back to this Pumpkinheads review!

Josie and Deja both work at the Succotash Hut, but on this final night, Deja hatches a plot to swap shifts with some other workers so they can be near the Fudge Shoppe. For years, Josie has had a crush on a girl named Marcy who works there, but Josie isn’t very outgoing and has never once talked to her. Deja is determined to make sure he speaks to her on the last opportunity to do so, urging Josie to talk to his crush during their dinner break. Deja knows time is running out.

It’s implied in Pumpkinheads that the teens who work at the pumpkin patch don’t all go to the same school, so for some of them, like Josie and Deja, working together at the pumpkin patch is the only way they see each other. Both Josie and Deja are seniors in high school, and Rowell implies that Josie is going to college out of the area next year while Deja is sticking around nearby.

But all does not go according to plan. Josie and Deja soon realize that Marcy has been sent to work elsewhere on the patch as backup. The two friends embark on a journey to find Marcy, who keeps getting reassigned to different stations just before Josie and Deja catch up with her. Along the way, they encounter several obstacles, and their path weaves them through the farm, so readers get the full pumpkin patch experience. Their epic night of fun and friendship builds to something more, as Josie and Deja get real with each other about things they’ve left unsaid over the years…

STRENGTHS of Pumpkinheads

Pumpkinheads next to some pumpkin cat toys!

There are so many good things about Rainbow Rowell’s Pumpkinheads. I’m going to focus on four of the best.

+ Pumpkinheads Captures That Fall Mood

If you’re coming to Pumpkinheads having never gone to a pumpkin patch, don’t worry—Faith Erin Hicks fully immerses you in the setting, crammed with tiny details, vivid colors, and a cohesive visual style that immerses you there. The sensory experience translate off the page. I felt like I could smell phantom whiffs of pumpkin spice, hay, and kettle corn just by reading the novel. This book totally nails the mood of fall. Whenever you’re feeling nostalgic for the fall, pick up Pumpkinheads and get magically swept back into PSL season.

+ The Friendship in Pumpkinheads Feels Authentic

Josie and Deja have a great friendship. I feel like we’re trained to automatically pair boy/girl friends up, and I was glad that that aspect did not really come to the fore until the end. I didn’t want this novel to be about Josie and Deja getting together, and, apart from asides and knowing looks on Deja’s face, there wasn’t an expectation that things had to end up there. Instead, we savored their connection as friends.

I also worked in a seasonal job through high school, at a swim club that was only open during the summer. Each Labor Day, we boarded up patio furniture and closed up shop. Like Josie and Deja, I had friendships with other workers that only existed during the summer as we went to different schools.

+ The Countdown Adds Suspense and Allows Characters to Be Present in the Moment

As an MFA student, I started paying attention to “raising the stakes,” a term for introducing an element of conflict and tension to a story. Some people describe this by saying, if your story is stalled, kill someone off. The bottom line is, do something that adds a sense of urgency to the plot. And I think Pumpkinheads nailed that with the introduction of a timeline.

Deja and Josie know they have this one night left together. This evening, Halloween, is the end of an era, and next year they might be scattered apart. They may never work at the pumpkin patch again. Four years have been building towards it, and there’s a definite feeling that if Josie doesn’t tell Marcy how he feels, he never will. Time is running out. It’s now or never.

I love how Rowell used a short deadline to propel the story forward. I’ve also experimented with that in my own writing, giving characters a firm deadline to make decisions and changes. Time gives stories an inherent sense of suspense, which keeps the character desire-and-conflict matrix constantly flexing. By making Pumpkinheads take place over one night, this allows Josie and Deja to be fully present and living in the moment.

+ Pumpkinheads is a hilarious and fun read that will lift your spirits

Reading this graphic novel in one sitting definitely cheered me up from the blues. Fighting through depression is hard, and reading can make it even worse if you can’t concentrate or don’t enjoy books anymore. Fortunately, Pumpkinheads came to the rescue! This book is charming, frequently hilarious, and overall just a fun, feel-good story. I loved the comedic shenanigans that Deja and Josie frequently found themselves in. And the motif of the escaped goat tearing through the patch was also an understated element that was so good. Rainbow Rowell is one of the best dialogue writers around, and I felt her words paired up with Faith Erin Hicks’s whimsical style was such a great match. When you close the covers of Pumpkinheads, it will be with a smile on your face and an “Awww!” in your heart.

WEAKNESSES of Pumpkinheads

I loved Pumpkinheads, but there were just a few minor things that I didn’t love about the novel. Here I’ll discuss two of them.

— Josie felt a little one dimensional

Of the two main characters, Josie felt less developed to me. Deja was a great sidekick, but without her there to keep the conversation rolling, Josie would have made even less of an impression on me. It was almost like, his main motivation in the story was to find Marcy, speak to her, and give her his number. But that felt like a desire line that Deja applied to him. And certainly that is a bit forced. She’s deliberately trying to push Josie to sort through how serious he is about Marcy and dating in general. However, the result was I didn’t really know what Josie himself wanted.

— Deja seemed like a sidekick, not a protagonist

You’d think that after the last point I made about Josie being underdeveloped, that Deja would be overdeveloped. But I didn’t really feel that way at all. It seemed like Deja existed mainly as a sidekick…your classic witty, sassy friend. Deja’s acts bordered on the cartoonish at points, almost manic-pixie-dream-girl level, and it bothered me.

This brings me to the question of who this novel is really about…is it about Josie or Deja or both? Because if Josie is underdeveloped and Deja feels more like the comic relief, then we’ve got a characterization problem. That’s probably my biggest critique of Pumpkinheads.

VERDICT: How good is Pumpkinheads?

I’m so glad I read Pumpkinheads. It reached me at a time when I needed to read something uplifting, sweet, and fun. And it undeniably immerses you in the mood and feeling of fall. Despite the minor issues I had with the book on the characterization level, I’m happy with this graphic novel and am giving it four stars.

You can read it in one sitting, and it’s nice to know Rainbow Rowell is coming back to YA contemporary after her Simon Snow/Fangirl spinoff books, Carry On and Wayward Son.

HOW TO READ Pumpkinheads

Purchase Pumpkinheads on Amazon

Add Pumpkinheads on Goodreads

Find Pumpkinheads in a library through WorldCat


To learn more about Pumpkinheads, check out the links below!

10 Essential Mystery Short Story Anthologies

in Bookish and Book-Related/Lists

Who doesn’t love a good mystery short story? Like many, I was hooked into the mystery genre by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Each one was a bite-sized package of suspense laced with danger and tied up with a tidy, cerebral conclusion. Since reading the Holmes tales, I’ve become a huge fan of mystery fiction and would probably describe it as my favorite genre of all.

As you can tell by my list of the best YA short story anthologies, I’m big into short fiction collections. It’s a perfect way to be introduced to new genres and authors. In this article, I’m recommending great collections of mystery short stories. You’ll find some of the best mystery anthologies of the best crime short stories here, featuring a wide breadth of the genre’s most celebrated and overlooked authors, past and present.

The Best American Mystery Stories series

This is a recurring series that is each year edited by a leading author, like James Patterson, Louise Penny, and Elizabeth George, with Otto Penzler as the series editor. The stories that qualify have been published in a periodical. If you want to get introduced to some of the best mystery writers, this series is a great way to do just that as you’re reading stories by prominent and up-and-coming authors who are publishing right now.

How to read it: Purchase The Best American Mystery Stories 2018 on Amazon and add it on Goodreads.

The Best American Noir of the Century – edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler

Noir fans will definitely want to pick up The Best American Noir of the Century, edited by legendary neo-noir author James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. From James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith to contemporary noir masters like Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard, and Harlan Ellison, this anthology of short noir fiction is a must-read. (And yes, that’s the same Otto Penzler who is the series editor of The Best American Mystery Stories series. This prolific editor has arranged several themed anthologies of short fiction. His name is a hallmark sign of quality and expertise. Any anthology by him will put you in good hands.)

How to read it: Purchase The Best American Noir of the Century on Amazon and add it on Goodreads.

The Big Book of Female Detectives – edited by Otto Penzler

Some of the genre’s most famous sleuths are female, and it is precisely those detectives and PIs that you’ll find in The Big Book of Female Detectives, another excellent anthology by Otto Penzler. In this epic collection of 74 short works suspense fiction, take a tour through history’s greatest female detectives as Penzler shines a light on lesser-known, overlooked, and influential stories featuring kickass ladies who solve crime.

How to read it: Purchase The Big Book of Female Detectives on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries – edited by Otto Penzler

My last Otto Penzler anthology, I swear, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to plug this one. Of all the subgenres within the mystery, thriller, and suspense genre, my absolute favorite is the locked-room mystery. In these “impossible crimes,” the crimes defy logic: a girl who somehow managed to disappear from a remote island (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), a man dies under puzzling circumstances locked in his study (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), and more. Who could the villain be? It must be someone on the scene… but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy solve. I just love these tales that tickle the brain and befuddle even the most intelligent detectives. And here in this mega anthology, you’ll find some of the greatest locked-room mysteries. An all-star cast of writers, like Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, pepper this essential collection of 68 of the best crime short stories.

How to read it: Purchase The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

A Moment on the Edge: 100 Years of Crime Stories by Women – edited by Elizabeth George

Powerhouse mystery writer Elizabeth George, best known for her Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley series, anthologizes mystery short stories by female writers. George starts with some of the earliest women authors of the genre, from 1917 to 2009. George provides illuminating introductions to each piece, providing a biography of the writer and situating her within her cultural and historical context. Anyone who thinks that crime fiction was strictly a male endeavor could stand to read this anthology.

How to read it: Purchase A Moment on the Edge on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Odd Partners: An Anthology – edited by Anne Perry

This collection by the Mystery Writers of America focuses on a theme: unforgettable—and often unlikely—duos in crime fiction. If you love the quirky, affectionate relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, add this to your TBR. If you adore epic clashes between arch-enemies, you’ll also want to add this to your TBR. And if you want to see how far the idea of “odd partners” goes, like crime-fighting partnerships between animals and humans, put Odd Partners on your TBR. Edited by acclaimed mystery author Anne Perry, Odd Partners includes writing by bestselling, Award-wining, and promising young authors, like Jeffrey Deaver, Charles Todd, Jacqueline Winspear, and many more.

How to read it: Purchase Odd Partners on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Tiny Crimes – edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto

If you only have a few minutes to spare, but you’re dying for some of the best mystery short stories, you’ll want to pick up the anthology Tiny Crimes. Edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto, Tiny Crimes spotlights micro fiction and flash fiction (stories that are very short, sometimes even only a page long) that deal with the theme of crime. This quick read shows off how nimble writers can be about packing a ton of emotion, suspense, and tension into a small space.

How to read it: Purchase Tiny Crimes on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime – edited by Michael Sims

What is “gaslight crime,” you might be asking? This term simply refers to crime fiction that was written during and often set during the era when streets were illuminated by gaslight, as opposed to the modern era where streetlight are electric. In The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime, anthologist Michael Sims, assemble a bang-up introduction to mystery short stories from this era, tales from H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis, and others, that feature famous detectives, rogue scoundrels, and legendary criminals who thrilled readers during the gaslight days. Read more about this book in an interview with Sims here.

If you liked this anthology, consider also checking out The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime, also edited by Michael Sims, which highlights female characters in crime fiction during the Victorian days. I didn’t include it here because… well, space!

How to read it: Purchase The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The Noir Series by Akashic Books

This long-running series collects noir short stories set in a particular location, like New Orleans, Amsterdam, and Berlin, but also settings like Wall Street and Prison. Chances are they’ve put together an anthology about your country, region, or city. I’m highlighting the Philadelphia book here since that’s closest to me. You can find the complete list on Akashic Books’ website.

How to read it: Purchase Philadelphia Noir on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

FaceOff – edited by David Baldacci

This unique collection pits rival enemies, detectives, and villains against each other. You’ll recognize these characters from the pages of famous mystery and thriller writers. For example, Michael Connelly’s cop hero Harry Bosch goes head-to-head with Patrick Kenzie from Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro series. If you love these stories, you’ll definitely want to check out the sequel, MatchUp, which focuses on beloved heroes and heroine from mystery fiction working together.

How to read it: purchase FaceOff on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

For more mystery anthologies, check out… short crime fiction collections by the Mystery Writers of America, anthologies from the International Thriller Writers, and mystery anthologies from the publisher Black Lizard.

The 25 Best Quotes from THE GOLDFINCH

in Bookish and Book-Related

I often tell people that Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch (2013) is my favorite book—and it’s true. The connection I felt when I read The Goldfinch in 2014 radically changed my life. In the most perfect way, the novel made me acutely aware of the possibilities of literature. By that I mean I became cognizant of the effect a story like that could have on me. At the same time, the reading experience caused an awakening in me; I started to unpack the craft mastery needed to write a story like that, one that is intricately plotted, emotionally engaging, and profoundly affecting.

After reading The Goldfinch, I decided I needed to leave my administrative assistant job and embark on a career dedicated to recommending and, maybe someday, if I could do it, writing stories like that. I first went to library science graduate school thinking I’d want to help connect people with books like that, but later I realized I wanted to learn how to write books like The Goldfinch. I can’t say for sure if I’m on that path…hopefully I am

In any case, my love for Tartt’s novel has not let up since reading the book five years ago, and I even wrote a post on this blog with book recommendations for fans of The Goldfinch, which I updated this year with even more great books to read if you loved The Goldfinch. In this post, I’m going to share some of the best quotes from The Goldfinch. Each one of these The Goldfinch quotes showcases Donna Tartt’s masterpiece, written in lush literary style that is confessional and intimate as our hero and narrator, Theo Decker, speaks from his heart. I’ve included page numbers that correspond to the first hardcover edition. Part of a book group? You can use these quotes as discussion questions for The Goldfinch.

25 Great Quotes from The Goldfinch

“I had the epiphany that laughter was light, and light was laughter, and that this was the secret of the universe.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 6 – “Wind, Sand and Stars,” Section xv: page 335

“Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section vii: page 757

“A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section viii: page 761

“That life – whatever else it is – is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section viii: page 771

“Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 10 – “The Idiot,” Section xx: page 594

“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section i: page 707

“Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section viii: page 770

“But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 3 – “Park Avenue,” Section iv: page 93

“When you feel homesick,’ he said, ‘just look up. Because the moon is the same wherever you go.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 5 – “Badr al-Dine,” Section xv: page 254

“—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section vii: page 758

“And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section viii: page 771

“Sometimes it’s about playing a poor hand well.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section i: page 707

“And as much as I’d like to believe there’s a truth beyond illusion, I’ve come to believe that there’s no truth beyond illusion. Because, between ‘reality’ on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section viii: page 770

“…as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section viii: page 771

“Every new event—everything I did for the rest of my life—would only separate us more and more: days she was no longer a part of, an ever-growing distance between us. Every single day for the rest of my life, she would only be further away.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 3 – “Park Avenue,” Section iv: page 89

“To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 10 – “The Idiot,” Section xxiii: page 603

“Who was it that said that coincidence was just God’s way of remaining anonymous?” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section vii: page 758

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that, in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.” François De La Rochefoucauld — The Goldfinch, quoted in the title page for Book III

“’The world won’t come to me,’ he used to say, ‘so I must go to it.’” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 4 – “Morphine Lollipop,” Section i: page 139

“Can’t good come around sometimes through some strange back doors?” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section vii: page 758

“As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section v: page 745

“She was the golden thread running through everything, a lens that magnified beauty so that the whole world stood transfigured in relation to her, and her alone.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 9 – “Everything of Possibility,” Section vi: page 464

“He was a planet without an atmosphere.” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 4 – “Morphine Lollipop,” Section ix: page 160

“Isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section vii: page 757

“Who’s to say that gamblers don’t really understand it better than anyone else? Isn’t everything worthwhile a gamble? Can’t good come around sometimes through some strange back doors?” — The Goldfinch, Chapter 12 – “The Rendezvous Point,” Section vii: page 758

All quotes (c) Donna Tartt, 2013

7 Great New Picture Books from the First Half of 2019

in Bookish and Book-Related/Lists

This post is a quick little appreciation of some of the best picture books to come out in the first half of 2019. I’m reading more picture books than ever, thanks to my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. It had been a little over 25 years since I had last read picture books until I started the program last year. (Spoiler: I’m 31.) Coming into the MFA, I was positive I was only going to want to read and write YA. But first semester, I drowned myself in picture books to get up to speed and found a new love and affection for them. I even wrote one of my own this past semester. Today’s picture books are somewhat different than my favorite ones I grew up with, as the genre is definitely evolving in a good way, but the same qualities that mark a great picture book are essentially the same: a story told with wonder.

This article links to the authors and illustrators websites where available. Just follow the hyperlink under their name.

The Undefeated

Written by Kwame Alexander; Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

I’m a big Kwame Alexander fan. As an aspiring YA verse novelist and writer of children’s verse, I view Alexander as an icon, an author whose preaching poetry to young kids with finesse and deft skill. His picture book The Undefeated is a rousing celebration of iconic or otherwise impactful black Americans throughout history. The text was originally written as a poem Alexander performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated. Kadir Nelson‘s vivid illustrations pop off the page, really making use of white space and formatting. Add The Undefeated on Goodreads and purchase on Amazon.

I Am a Wolf

Written and Illustrated by Kelly Leigh Miller

I adored this picture book written and illustrated by Kelly Leigh Miller. In this poignant story, a dog living on the streets develops a hard outer shell, convincing itself that it’s really a “wolf” and therefore others should keep away. In therapy terms, it’s got abandonment and trust issues. But even though this little pup does everything it can to keep others away, it can’t stop a child’s love. Miller captures the dog’s punchy personality in bright colors and exaggerated emotions. I Am a Wolf is a nice way to introduce children to their first pets. I remember adopting a little kitten when I was four who was also mistrustful at the beginning, and I didn’t understand why. I Am a Wolf helps make inroads between a rescue animal’s behavior and the boundless love children have for their pets. Add I Am a Wolf on Goodreads and purchase on Amazon.

My Heart

Written and Illustrated by Corinna Luyken

Beautiful pictures, beautiful language, and beautiful story. I haven’t read enough to tell, but it still feels strangely rare to read picture books that acknowledge bad feelings. Corinna Luyken does so with both specific and general language that readers can surely find themselves in. This book is ultimately joyful and empowering, but it does not shy away from how dark things can get. I think it’s so necessary to give young readers a vocabulary (both written *and* visual vocabulary) to discuss challenging feelings, and books like My Heart help start the conversation. Another great one is I Hate Everyone by Naomi Danis (2018). Add My Heart on Goodreads and purchase on Amazon.


Written and Illustrated by Christian Robinson

A fantastically surreal picture book by Christian Robinson. This book was packed with narrative mystery. Just what was happening? Was this little girl having a dream? I liked that this was unresolved. It really made me stretch my mind and think about the possibilities. I already know I will return to this book again, and it’ll be perfect to analyze in my critical thesis on surrealism in children’s literature. I also love the art here, how the portal opens to a white space where colors splash and stand out. Add Another on Goodreads and purchase on Amazon.

Let ‘er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion

Written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; Illustrated by Gordon C. James

An interesting book by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson about George Fletcher, a black cowboy who earned the title of “People’s Champion” at the Pendleton Round-Up in 1911. The story is great, but the striking, smooth, and vibrant illustrations from Gordon C. James are what I lingered over. James is already an icon in my book for illustrating Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (2017), one of my favorite picture books of the last few years. And in Let ’Er Buck his mastery is on full display. The oil paintings seem to move even though they are static there on the pages. The effect is to make the action scenes, especially of the cowboys riding, almost come alive by capturing the movement with art. This was a joyful, exquisite story with artwork that could hang in a museum but, more important, reach you through the two-dimensional page. Add Let ‘er Buck! on Goodreads and purchase on Amazon.

Princess Puffybottom … and Darryl

Written by Susan Nielsen; Illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller

Olivia Chin Mueller‘s illustrations for this picture book by Susan Nielsen are simply gorgeous and also seem to really capture the characters’ personalities. Princess Puffybottom… and Darryl is so stinking cute and refreshingly inclusive. This book is not unlike the basic story behind the middle grade novel I’m writing, Boom and Blink: a new pet with a bombacious and outgoing personality comes to a household where a snobby elitist of a cat is the only pet. Hijinks ensue until they bond. This charming story is a nice story about friendship that any young kid beginning to work out socialization will appreciate. Add Princess Puffybottom.. and Darryl on Goodreads and purchase on Amazon.

Rumple Buttercup: A Stories of Bananas, Belonging, and Being Yourself

Written and Illustrated by Matthew Gray Gubler

Bravo, Matthew Gray Gubler: This early reader, or picture book for older readers, is absolutely adorable. It tells the cheerful, uplifting story of an ugly creature named Rumple Buttercup who believes it needs to hide because people (humans, mostly) would be afraid of it. Rumple Buttercup’s journey takes him outside his comfort zone in the sewers as he finds that people adore him and always watch for him on the one day a year he comes out for the town’s parade. The story closes with humans and animals explaining that everyone has strange things about themselves, but we are all unique and wonderful in our own ways. It was such a simple story, and yet, I fell in love with Rumple Buttercup and felt such affection for him that I nearly cried at the end. What an amazing look at difference, shame, and acceptance. The almost childlike illustrations (by the author) add to the whimsy. Add Rumple Buttercup on Goodreads and purchase on Amazon.

What are some of your favorite children’s books from 2019? Leave a comment below!

My Top 10 Childhood Favorites

in Bookish and Book-Related/Lists/Top Ten Tuesdays

This week, I’m writing about my top-ten favorite books from when I was just a young little bookworm. Since I’m just on the cusp of starting my next semester in my kid lit MFA program at VCFA, it seems like a great way to feature some of the books that shaped who I became… an aspiring children’s book author! Like you, I have a million childhood favorites, so narrowing it down was difficult. The primary criteria I used were to include books I have specific memories reading and/or books I read and read and read again. Some of these I’ve reread for school, but not all of them. Let’s dive in and do a little excavation of my best children’s books. (And don’t forget to take my quiz with trivia from children’s literature! See how much you remember.)

My Top Ten Childhood Favorites

Picture Books and Poetry

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

My grandparents’ farm is located in the Catskill Mountains in New York. One of my favorite memories growing up was being turned loose in the blueberry patches with my cousins. On summer nights, my grandmother would make blueberry pie with the blueberries we’d picked and dropped in empty Folgers Coffee cans. I love the way Robert McCloskey captures a child’s solo quest for blueberries. It reminded me of my own longing to go out and explore the wild myself. We’d also vacationed in Maine, where McCloskey’s picture book takes place. Plus, I looked a lot like Sal when I was a child. This is definitely one of my favorites.

Add Blueberries for Sal on Goodreads and purchase it on Amazon.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

I loved Maurice Sendak’s tale of feeling free to be an untamed kid. I think kids often feel like they have to stifle and repress their urges to be bad, not clean up their room, and just plain rebel against adults. That’s not always healthy. I wrote a critical essay this semester about how subversive children’s poetry can do just that: encourage kids to be naughty, or at least just give into their id for a little while. Sendak’s classic picture book epitomizes this message to kids. Together with the dreamlike artwork, I totally identified with Max and his story about the divide between childhood and adulthood and the expectations for both.

Add Where the Wild Things Are on Goodreads and purchase it on Amazon.

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

Did I fall in love with cats before I read Dr. Seuss’s classic The Cat in the Hat or after I devoured the book? It’s hard to know for sure. I do know one thing: I loved Dr. Seuss’s zany vision, his surrealist stories and whimsical wordplay, and they’ve been a big impact on my own writing for children. This is another one of those books that, like Where the Wild Things Are, explores the idea of “being bad” in a safe place… on the page.

Add The Cat in the Hat on Goodreads and purchase it on Amazon.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

There were so many picture books I loved that I had to finally cull the herd and just pick a few. That means favorites like The Mitten, The Snowy Day, Stellaluna, and Madeline all got left out. So why did Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon make the cut? First, this is one of the only picture books that I have a specific and concrete memory of reading for the first time. I remember my mother checking it out of the Ridley Township Public Library for us and reading it with her. I remember the soft, serene illustrations by John Schoenherr that capture the magic and majesty of nature at night. And I remember the almost pagan-like reverie of the moon. In terms of mood and atmosphere, this story can’t be beat.

Add Owl Moon on Goodreads and purchase it on Amazon.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Another book I can distinctly remember reading is Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. We did not actually own the book, so I walked up the block and a half it took to get to our town’s public library and checked it out time and time again. Silverstein’s collection introduced me to poetry as well as the library. By borrowing the book over and over, I had to explore new parts of the library, since it was housed with the general poetry collection, not broken out into poetry for children. I came to love the library and the power I held in my hand with a library card. And as for the poems? Well, I loved Silverstein’s playful verse, which was bold, witty, funny, and cheeky. The essay I wrote this semester about the subversiveness of children’s verse definitely referenced Silverstein, who I count as a huge influence on my own writing.

Add Where the Sidewalk Ends on Goodreads and purchase it on Amazon.

Chapter Books and Middle Grade Novels

The Ramona Books by Beverly Cleary

There were so many books I could have included here, but I tried to make my choices of childhood favorites based on sheer number of rereads. And I don’t think there were any middle grade novels, or chapter books as I’m sure they could be considered, than Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby books. This hilarious series featured plucky, mischievous, and opinionated young Ramona on a variety of adventures. I think part of the reason why I found comfort in these novels is Ramona always seemed like an outsider. She was often misunderstood in by her peers and the adults around her. I consumed her melodramas over and over again. I’m sure I must have been responsible for water-logging the library’s paperbacks, with their cracked spines worn with love.

Add The Ramona Collection, Volume 1 on Goodreads and purchase it on Amazon.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

I was a hard-core Roald Dahl fan when I was a kid and read just about every book by him that our library had. Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG… how can you pick a favorite from those? But I think most of all, I loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This novel is quintessentially dark, as are many of Dahl’s novels, but the story hinges on a Dickensian work of fate that made me love stories about destiny and fortune. When little Charlie Bucket finds that golden ticket, it’s like a call to him that takes him and his family out of misery and into a new, more prosperous life.

As a kid dealing with depression and undiagnosed Asperger’s, I yearned for a golden ticket. Reading was my golden ticket. It took me out of my circumstances and transported me somewhere else. Years later, in that magical first residency at VCFA, I felt like I finally got the real golden ticket: I was admitted to a stellar MFA program that validated my writing dreams and became the culmination of a life of book love. My love of reading during childhood saved my life, and that passion for kid lit saved my life when I got the golden ticket (acceptance letter) to study writing for children so I could truly give back.

Add Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Goodreads and purchase it on Amazon.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

I’ve written on this blog before about my love of Louise Fitzhugh’s novel. My collection of the best quotes about writing from Harriet the Spy compiles some of the best writer-y passages from the book. I talk a lot in that post about what the book means to me, but I’ll say it here, too. Reading Harriet the Spy was the first time I ever realized you could be a writer. Harriet was the first character I encountered who was a thoughtful, aspiring writer. Until then, I never realized you could be a writer. And Harriet the Spy doesn’t give Harriet an easy way of it. Throughout the story, her ideas about being a writer are tested, ultimately by herself when she considers the ethics of what she was doing and who she could hurt with her brutally honest, snarky observations.

Harriet was also a misfit, like I was, existing on the fringe of her classmates. She was first and foremost an observer of friendships and society rather than a participant of friendships and society. An outsider. And I felt the same way when I was her age. It’s no shock that this book was so meaningful for me.

Add Harriet the Spy on Goodreads and purchase it on Amazon.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Yep, I was a pretty morbid kid obsessed with R.L. Stine’s gross-out horror but more so Alvin Schwartz’s creepy Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. These macabre tales included folklore and urban legends told with a subtle style. And who could forget the eerie, disturbing illustrations by Stephen Gammell? These really take the collection of stories from merely scary to absolutely chilling. I recently picked up a copy of these books and was surprised to see how short most of the tales were. I had memories of sagas and epics. It goes to show you how effective a writer Schwartz was, together with Gammell’s drawings, to make a big impression without wasting words.

Add Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark on Goodreads and purchase the trilogy of Scary Stories books on Amazon.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Hands up if you were a Little House on the Prairie fan! I definitely was. I made cornhusk dolls and longed to live with Laura and her family. My older sister had loved the books, too, and it was her box set that I inherited when she grew up. I read these stories over and over again. These historical tales by Laura Ingalls Wilder immersed you in a time that was by no mean simpler. I adored the story of living among the wilds of Wisconsin and the dynamics in young Laura’s family, and the atmosphere of living in such an isolated place. And it all starts with Little House in the Big Woods. These were some of

Add Little House in the Big Woods on Goodreads and purchase it on Amazon.

What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Leave a comment below!

15 Great Graphic Novels for Kids

in Bookish and Book-Related/Lists

There are so many awesome graphic novels for kids these days, but where to start? Graphic novels for children are becoming increasingly popular, with kid lit publishers releasing child graphic novels all the time now. Graphic novels for tweens and middle schoolers are great stories to explore friendship, popularity, puberty, and emerging identities. In my list of the 15 best graphic novels for young readers, kids can jump in with these fun and creative stories.

All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Hope Larson builds on her award-winning middle grade graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time in All Summer Long (2018). In this story, 13-year-old Bina has the whole summer in front of her, with her best friend Austin off to soccer camp for some of the time. Austin’s been acting strange lately, anyway, and when he comes back, things still feel off. This poignant graphic novel for tweens and middle schoolers is an honest and relatable look at how friendships change over time, told with Larson’s trademark punchy visual style.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

This compelling graphic novel won the Printz Award, a prestigious prize for YA. However, I also consider American Born Chinese (2006) to be appropriate for middle grade readers. In three narratives that intertwine, Gene Luen Yang looks at what it means to be a person of color in America. Weaving together three storylines that each address the history of Chinese Americans in American history and culture past and present, American Born Chinese showcases the power of visual narratives and text working as one.

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

The author of Anya’s Ghost (which I reviewed here on the blog) delivers another great graphic novel for kids in Be Prepared (2018). This humorous story is based on Vera Brosgol’s childhood. In Be Prepared, young Vera is a suburban kid and definitely an indoors kind of person. Her parents, though, won’t allow her to just read the day away all summer long and instead send her to a camp for other Russian Americans. This funny graphic novel for kids is perfect for anyone who’s ever struggled to fit in, outdoors or inside.

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

The Cardboard Kingdom (2018) is a whimsical collaboration by several authors who each wrote one of the characters in this story. In this joyous, funny, and clever book, a neighborhood of kids design cardboard costumes and together form a cardboard kingdom with one big group mission. It’s impossible not to feel artistically inspired after reading The Cardboard Kingdom, which showcases the creative ways each of these children lean on their diverse skills and abilities.

El Deafo by Cece Bell

A Newbery Medal Nominee, Cece Bell’s graphic memoir El Deafo (2014) is an excellent narrative of disability. After Bell loses her hearing in childhood due to illness, she learns to adapt and thrive at school and home. Despite her challenges, Bell develops a resilience helped by her sense of humor. Bell imagines she has an alter ego, El Deafo, a superhero who draws power from her giant hearing aid, the Phonic Ear, highlighting that being differently abled means you have unique gifts of your own.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

In this fun graphic novel for kids by Raina Telgemeier, Callie is a set designer on her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi. Callie’s friendships with other members of the tech crew, as well drama with actors and other kids involved in the show, form the beating heart of this amusing and heartfelt novel about theatre. Drama (2012) is a diverse and queer positive graphic novel and a good introduction into Telgemeier’s work for young readers.

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists – edited by Chris Duffy

One great way to introduce comics and graphic novels to children is through collections of shorter stories. In Fairy Tale Comics (2013), today’s leading cartoonists who have written for young audiences, including Raina Telgemeier, Jillian Tamaki, and Emily Carroll, reimagine classic fairy tales. When I’m recommending books for readers who are new to fantasy, I often suggest fairy tale retellings as an entryway, seeing as there’s a storyline you’re already familiar with, and the same holds true for recommending Fairy Tale Comics to middle grade readers looking to branch out into visual narratives like comics and graphic novels.

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Looking to laugh? Try Whitney Gardner’s Fake Blood (2018), a hilarious, paranormal-themed graphic novel for tweens. In this funny story, AJ feels like puberty has hit everyone else, leaving him behind as the last kid to grow up. How is he supposed to woo his crush, Nia Winters, when he looks like a kid and she’s into dreamy, hunky vampires? When AJ and Nia are assigned the same group project about Transylvania, AJ tries to impress Nia as a vampire only to learn she’s a vampire slayer. This graphic novel for middle schoolers is a funny and heartfelt look at a time of first crushes and those first changes that take tweens into their teens.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Various Artists)

I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan, and his middle grade novel The Graveyard Book (2008) is a real fun, neo-gothic read. And in The Graveyard Book‘s two-volume graphic novel adaptation, readers get treated to Gaiman’s story interpreted in stunning artwork. What’s unique about this project is multiple artists contribute to it, with a new one interpreting different sections of the book in their style, so you get to see how the same characters and settings through several different lenses. (PS: If you liked this Gaiman adaptation, check out the graphic novel version of Coraline on Goodreads and Amazon.)

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Graphic novels and visual narratives are a way to help kids describe hard feelings and emotions that are intangible and invisible. Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s National Book Award finalist graphic memoir for children, Hey, Kiddo (2018), shows the strength of the medium to visualize the indescribable in this story about a boy who’s raised by his grandparents after his heroin addict mother is incarcerated. Through this gritty memoir, we cheer for young Jarrett as he develops more confidence as an artist, searches for peace in his unconventional family situation, and ultimately finds his father, an emotional journey that is visualized in stunning art.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Giovanni Rigano

Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer (Ireland’s Children’s Laureate from 2014-2016) teams up with artist Giovanni Rigano in this harrowing middle grade graphic novel about Ebo, a boy who leaves Libya in search of his brother, Kwame. The boys’ older sister Hannah left for Europe promising to send money, but since they haven’t heard from Hannah, Kwame has gone in search of her. With Colfer’s storytelling skills and Rigano’s powerful illustrations, Illegal (2018) makes the current global immigration and refugee experience accessible for kids in this middle grade graphic novel.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo

Introduce your kids to Louisa May Alcott’s beloved Little Women (1868) with Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy (2019), an inspiring and uplifting retelling of the children’s classic updated to modern times. In this version, sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy make up a blended interracial family, with their father serving overseas just like Mr. March did in the Civil War in Alcott’s original. Each sister has her own hopes and dreams, anxieties and worries, and talents and interests, but together they lean on each other during the moments when they need it most.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

In Jerry Craft’s acclaimed graphic novel New Kid (2019), our artsy hero Jordan Banks starts the year at an elite school known for its academic rigor. It’s not the art school aspiring cartoonist Jordan wants to attend, but he makes it work and makes friends with other kids at school. As one of the few students of color, Jordan struggles to fit in and finds camaraderie and commiseration with other diverse minority students.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

This graphic novel sweeps readers away not just with great art but with the engrossing, poignant story of Priyanka “Pri” Das. No matter what, Pri’s mom won’t talk about her motherland, India, which just makes Pri even more curious about her heritage there. When a pashmina scarf transports her to a land that seems like it’s India, Pri will need to learn how to reconcile the fantasy she’s envisioned and seen in Bollywood movies with the reality of a country her mother knows well, and left.

Sheets by Brenna Thummler

Brenna Thummler’s Sheets (2018) is a cute and whimsical story about 13-year-old Marjorie Glatt, a girl who feels like a ghost, and Wendell, the boy ghost she befriends. Marjorie’s family owns a laundry business, Glatt’s Laundry, where she works after her mother’s death. Wendell brings the place to life at night as a sheet-wearing ghost. Together, their bond helps Marjorie deal with her grief and Wendell understand his afterlife. This sweet and cozy friendship story is perfect for middle schoolers.

Take the Ultimate Children’s Literature Trivia Quiz

in Bookish and Book-Related

Sure, you remember your favorite books from childhood fondly, but how well do you really know them? Since I started MFA program in writing for children and young adults, I’ve been rereading the canon and finding I remembered both more and less that I expected. In this printable children’s book quiz packed with classic children’s literature trivia, you’ll get a chance to revisit the highlights of the kid lit canon, from picture books to chapter books and novels of all genres. The children’s literature questions (and answers) will test your memories and appreciate kid lit all the more. This fun book trivia for kids and adults alike celebrate the best of children’s literature. The answers are listed at the bottom. Good luck, readers!

Questions 1 – 5

1 – Where does the Dursley family live in the Harry Potter series?

a) 6 Drill Street, Petunia Crossing

b) 12 Gringott Corner, Dudley Town

c) 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging

d) 16 Diagon Alley, London

2 – What is the name of Matilda’s teacher?

a) Mrs. Lizzie Sugar

b) Miss Jennifer Honey

c) Miss Lavender Bogtrotter

d) Mrs. Agatha Trunchbull

3 – Who is NOT a resident of the Hundred Acre Wood in Winnie-the-Pooh?

a) Owl

b) Badger

c) Christopher Robin

d) Tigger

4 – In The Cat in the Hat, what type of pet does Sally have?

a) Fish

b) Hamster

c) Dog

d) Bunny

5 – What is the name of the little boy who’s the hero of The Snowy Day?

a) Billy

b) Michael

c) Carl

d) Peter

Questions 6 – 10

6 – Who wrote Harriet the Spy?

a) Judy Blume

b) Betty MacDonald

c) Louise Fitzhugh

d) E. L. Konigsburg

7 – What is NOT a title of a book in Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit series?

a) The Tale of Mr. McGregor

b) The Tale of Benjamin

c) The Tale of Ginger and Pickles

d) The Tale of Mr. Tod

8 – What kind of clothing does Max wear in Where the Wild Things Are?

a) Bat cape

b) Pajamas

c) Cat costume

d) Wolf Suit

9 – Who is NOT a character in A Wrinkle in Time?

a) Mrs. When

b) Mrs. Whatsit

c) Mrs. Which

d) Mrs. Who

10 – The author of Charlotte’s Web also wrote which book?

a) The Cricket in Times Square

b) Stuart Little

c) The Wind in the Willows

d) Mr. Popper’s Penguin

Questions 11 – 15

11 – In what decade was Goodnight Moon published?

a) 1940s

b) 1950s

c) 1960s

d) 1970s

12 – What is NOT the title of a chapter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

a) “Alice’s Evidence.”

b) “The Mock Turtle’s Story.”

c) “Advice from a Cat.”

d) “Who Stole the Tarts?”

13 – In From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where do the kids camp out?

a) American Museum of Natural History

b) The Metropolitan Museum of Art

c) The Museum of Modern Art

d) The Bronx Zoo

14 – What is the name of the creature who makes sure people don’t waste time in The Phantom Tollbooth?

a) The Time Tiger

b) The Clock Cat

c) The Watchdog

d) The Minute Monster

15 – What instrument does Peter play in Peter Pan?

a) Harmonica

b) Flute

c) Mandolin

d) Pipes

Questions 16 – 20

16 – In which city does Make Way for Ducklings take place?

a) London

b) Philadelphia

c) Boston

d) New York City

17 – How many girls attend Madeline’s school in Paris?

a) 10

b) 12

c) 15

d) 20

18 – Who is Curious George’s best friend?

a) The Captain

b) The Man in the Yellow Hat

c) The General

d) The Girl with the Red Scarf

19 – In Harold and the Purple Crayon, Harold draws all of the following EXCEPT?

a) A sun

b) A pie

c) A dragon

d) A moon

20 – In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, what is the name of the children who go to Narnia?

a) The Parker siblings.

b) The Kirke siblings.

c) The Pevensie siblings.

d) The Ketterly siblings.


  1. c
  2. b
  3. b
  4. a
  5. d
  6. c
  7. a
  8. d
  9. a
  10. b
  11. a
  12. c
  13. b
  14. c
  15. d
  16. c
  17. b
  18. b
  19. a
  20. c

RESULTS: How’d you do?

If you got 0 – 5 correct…

Seems like it’s time to brush up on classic children’s literature! Consider your score an invitation to revisit your favorites from childhood. A new reading means another chance to appreciate what makes these stories timeless.

If you got 6 – 10 correct…

You remember these books fondly, but maybe you get your Peter Rabbits and Peter Pans confused. Picking up these classic books again will give you a chance to spend time with old friends and analyze them with a modern critical eye.

If you got 11 – 15 correct…

You’ve got a sharp eye for details and remember the specifics of classic children’s books, not just a hazy memory. It’s obvious these books have had a huge impact on your life. Maybe it’s time you write one of your own…

If you got 16 – 20 correct…

Wow—congratulations! You’re an expert in children’s literature and clearly remember the canon very well. You go further than just rote memorization but have opinions on the at times problematic books. Push yourself further to read more modern children’s literature and appreciate how the genre is evolving.

20 Great Book Websites for Finding What to Read Next

in Bookish and Book-Related/Lists

I’m writing this list of the best websites about books for me five years ago. Back then I was deep in the beginning of learning about book world and would have welcomed a list of the great book websites to help me learn what to read next. Getting to know the publishing industry is a lifelong process of book discovery, and the Internet makes the literary community more accessible and inclusive than ever. These 20 book websites (plus a few extra way down at the end) are the places I go to find out about new books being published, to deepen my understanding of literature and reading, to get book recommendations, to grapple with critical book reviews, and more. I hope you’ll find your next favorite book through this list of great book websites to grow as a reader.

20 Best Book Websites for Book Recommendations, Lists, and More

(1) Amazon Book Review

Love it or hate it, but Amazon is a quality place to go to find out about new books. The Omnivoracious Amazon Book Review is a flagship for good book content, with recommendations from celebrities and other notable readers being a unique feature. I love the author interviews they have on their site, with writers like George R. R. Martin, Holly Black, and Charlie Jane Anders recently stopping by for a chat, often on the podcast. Amazon’s Best Books of the Month list is one I check religiously for new books to add to my TBR. They often surprise me with little-known reads I wouldn’t otherwise have on my radar (even if I think they make YA an afterthought), which is why I rate them highly for “new book discovery,” meaning a place where you can learn about books to read.

Strengths: Author interviews, previews of new releases, lists of recent award winners, podcast, new book discovery

(2) Book Bub

When Book Bub first came on the scene about five years ago, I signed up for their signature daily newsletter with hot deals on eBooks. I scored a lot of great books to load up my Kindle, but I didn’t really follow the site for a few years as I wasn’t reading too much on my eReader. Now they’re everywhere, moving beyond the email list to create original bookish content. It’s now totally expected to have one of their many comprehensive book lists pop up in a search for new books. The only downside that I see is that now you have to have an account to view their book lists or other blog content. I do like how they track book recommendations from authors like Stephen King, Jill Shalvis, and Nora Roberts.

Strengths: Book list articles, book recommendations, eBook deals, new book discovery

(3) Book Marks

One of the sites associated with Literary Hub or “Lit Hub,” which I write up as #12 below, Book Marks is the place to go if you want to find book reviews of the latest big books. Book Marks’ specialty is aggregating adult literary fiction and nonfiction book reviews and then assigning them a score card so you can see how many reviewers gave the book a Rave, Positive, Mixed, or Pan. Without a doubt, if you want to find out the critical consensus on a book before buying it or checking it out of the library, Book Marks should be your first stop. I also like how the site regularly interviews book critics to ask them more about their bookish lives. The site also reprints classic book reviews.

Strengths: Book reviews, coverage of new books, literary criticism, book news, essays

(4) Book Riot

Sure, I might be a little biased to include Book Riot in my list of the best book websites since I write for them, but the fact is, Book Riot is one of the leading destinations on the web for book lovers and certainly one of the top best sites for new books. Book Riot’s got all areas of the reading life covered and does an especially good job at highlighting diverse authors, featuring all genres, and amplifying thoughtful and at times controversial opinions about books, publishing, and reading. The annual Read Harder Challenge pushes readers beyond their comfort zone with categories like “A book by an AOC (Author of Color) set in or about space” and “A novel by a trans or nonbinary author,” and a thriving community of challenge takers trade book recommendations and ideas. Book Riot’s many book podcasts are also must-listens for readers wanting to learn about new books and what to read next.

Strengths: Diversity, essays, book list articles, all-genre coverage, podcasts, book news, reading challenge, new book discovery

(5) Brain Pickings

Looking for engrossing essays about books that will push you emotionally and intellectually? You’ll definitely want to stop by Brain Pickings, the literary love child of Maria Popova, a blogger who decided to create an “inventory of the meaningful life” more than a decade ago and share it with other readers. Popova’s one-woman show is an intensely personal exploration of art and ideas, with coverage of children’s literature alongside philosophy, literary fiction, and creativity. Sign up for her newsletters to get a hit of thought-provoking writing a few times a week, guaranteed to break up your mundane day. Popova is author of two books: Figuring (2019), which highlights the hidden legacy of influential female thinkers, scientists, and creators, and A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader (2018), a book for younger readers that collects essays about reading from leading creative thinkers like Neil Gaiman, Shonda Rhimes, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Elizabeth Gilbert.

Strengths: Literary criticism, essays, backlist coverage, newsletter

(6) Bustle Books

The website Bustle is designed for the modern woman, and the ample literary coverage on their standout Bustle Books channel reflects that. Here readers will find profiles and interviews with female authors, lists that focus on feminism, and personal essays that explore the experience of being a female reader in today’s world. Bustle Books is known for provocative articles challenging the publishing world to be more diverse and more female inclusive. You’ll also find fun articles, too, about books, TV and film adaptations, and books in pop culture.

Strengths: Feminism, diversity, essays, book list articles, all-genre coverage, new book discovery

(7) CrimeReads

Like Book Marks, CrimeReads is a branch of Literary Hub (discussed in #12 below). This book website has a niche focus on “crime” in literature: through true crime, mysteries, thrillers, fiction about crimes in general. On CrimeReads, you’ll find essays about writing and reading crime fiction, appreciation of and interviews with crime fiction authors both well known and underrated, reading lists for crime fiction and nonfiction, and coverage of crime in TV, movies, and other media. CrimeReads also has essays and original reporting on true crime. If you’re a mystery and thriller lover, appreciate a good courtroom novel, or just love reading about true crimes stories, you’ll definitely want to head over to CrimeReads and marathon read their quality content.

Strengths: Mystery/thriller/suspense, true crime, nonfiction, the writing life, book list articles, essays, literary criticism, new book discovery

(8) Electric Literature

With its signature tagline of “Reading Into Everything,” Electric Literature hosts an eclectic mix of bookish coverage, ranging from highbrow literary criticism to horoscopes for writers and everything in between. A hallmark of Electric Literature is a focus on reading more diversely, and a regular feature called Read More Women asks writers to recommend books by women (a response to male authors who only recommend books by fellow male authors). One thing I love about Electric Literature is how often they touch on writing and the life of being a storyteller. (I’m a bit biased because I’ve written for Electric Literature and consider it one of my proudest accomplishments to have my writing on there.) Electric Literature also publishes original fiction in its literary magazine, so keep your eyes peeled for some of today’s best authors and new and emerging voices alike converging there.

Strengths: Literary criticism, diversity, essays, author interviews, the writing life, all-genre coverage, book news, book list articles, new book discovery

(9) Epic Reads

Oh, Epic Reads: what started as an arm of HarperCollins publishing house has turned into the go-to destination for YA book fans. Readers of young adult literature love Epic Reads for the humorous tone, creative article ideas (bookish horoscopes, fan reactions to plot twists, book title or song lyric? challenges, etc.), addictive quizzes, and, of course, the many TBR-exploding lists. You’ll also find book trailers, cover reveals, and details on the latest books and tour dates for YA authors. Even though Epic Reads is part of HarperCollins, they don’t only put the spotlight on books through their publishing house. Epic Reads is simply and purely about celebrating YA literature, no matter whose imprint is stamped on the book jacket. So often YA can be a heavy genre, with books tackling serious themes, but Epic Reads always reminds me that reading (and YA) can and should be fun, too.

Strengths: Young Adult (YA) books, quizzes, book list articles, new book discovery

(10) Five Books

Five Books has a niche formula and does it well: a list of five great book recommendations. This powerhouse book website solicits a fascinating mix of today’s most interesting, creative, and thoughtful “Experts”—like Mary Beard, Madhur Jaffrey, Mia Farrow, and Jo Nesbø—to offer five book recommendations on a specific topic, such as “The Best Prose Poetry,” “Congress,” and “Zombies.” An additional nice feature of Five Books is the ability to make your own lists and share your expertise. The site lives up to its tagline of “The Best Books on Everything” as you’ll find as wide a variety of book lists and book coverage as anywhere on the web.

Strengths: Book list articles, book recommendations, new book discovery

(11) Goodreads

In the 9 years that I’ve been a member of Goodreads, I’ve seen the site change a lot—for the better. Goodreads is perhaps the most essential website for readers as it allows you to track the books you’ve read, want to read, and are reading and add custom shelves to sort books. Connect with other readers in groups and follow authors for updates and exclusive information. The Goodreads lists are a rabbit hole to tumble down and find out more about books. I’ve found that the user-generated reviews have also improved over the last few years, going from one-line snarky hot takes to more thoughtful reviews. Plus they are home of the popular Goodreads Reading Challenge, an annual self-challenge to set a goal of how many books you want to read that year. (I’ve been known to argue against the challenge on this blog and offer alternatives to the Goodreads challenge, yet what can I say… I do it almost every year.) Even the Goodreads blog is getting better at publishing creative articles about the bookish life.

Strengths: Community, reading data tool, book list articles, user-generated reviews, reading challenge

(12) Largehearted Boy

Largehearted Boy is a book and music blog established in 2002 by David Gutowski and an essential corner of the literary internet. Obsessed with best-books-of-the-year lists? Make sure you bookmark Largehearted Boy, which compiles an index of the best-of lists you can peruse till your heart’s desire. Check out last year’s “Online ‘Best Books of 2018’ Book Lists” for a TBR-buckling example. (Full disclosure: I’ve submitted my best-of lists from this blog before and been included.) Also great for book discovery is the weekly “Books of the Week” that Montreal bookstore Drawn & Quarterly hosts on Largehearted Boy. What I love about Largehearted Boy is the thoughtful and honest book reviews, the blending of music and literature with the “Book Notes,” where an author matches a mix tape to their new book. Like Brainpickings, Largehearted Boy traces a very personal experience of inquiry into being a reader, writer, listener, and human being to provoke our own consideration. It’s an honor to share in it.

Strengths: Book list articles, author interviews, essays, book reviews, new book discovery

(13) Literary Hub (a.k.a. “LitHub”)

The parent site of the aforementioned Book Marks and CrimeReads, Literary Hub pumps out new book content for readers on the daily. I also suggest signing up for the LitHub newsletters as they come out each day with a summary of new posts not just on LitHub but elsewhere on the Internet. The weekly edition is a must-read, too, and it’s where I get many of the interesting bookish links I post on the Facebook page for this blog. On LitHub, you’ll find an endless stream of great writing about books, including essays on writing and reading, author interviews, highbrow intellectual literary criticism, book lists, and new fiction. Browsing LitHub is like reading a digital version of a literary magazine (like The New York Review of Books) that you actually want to read. Unquestionably LitHub’s specialty is literary fiction, though they do also cover various genres, too. However, you likely won’t find much YA and children’s literature coverage on LitHub, excluding when they come up in personal essays about reading or writing kidlit.

Strengths: Literary criticism, literary fiction, nonfiction, essays, book list articles, author interviews, new book discovery, book news

(14) The Millions

Established in 2003, The Millions is one of the oldest book websites around, and over the past 15 plus years it has built up a reputation for being a gathering point for intellectually curious readers. Head over to The Millions if you want to check out the latest buzzy literary releases, hear more from authors about how they conceptualized and wrote their new book, discover the most anticipated books published in the month ahead, and find out what books were nominated for awards. The strength of The Millions is definitely literary fiction and nonfiction. Two of the best recurring features on The Millions are the annual Year in Reading, in which notable creatives and thinkers share a little about their year in reading, and The Millions’ Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half Year 20XX Preview, a TBR-toppling list of the most anticipated books of the year. This list comes out in two parts: January for the First-Half and July for the Second-Half. (Example: here’s the First-Half of 2018 Preview and Second-Half.) You’ll want to comb through these articles with your TBR ready, and you can find all The Millions lists on Goodreads for easy record keeping. I look forward to them every year as traditions, almost holidays, on the bookish calendar.

Strengths: Literary criticism, literary fiction, nonfiction, essays, author interviews, book list articles, previews of new releases, book news

(15) The New Yorker‘s Books Section

Arguably the best literary magazine in America, The New Yorker is also a flourishing website with tons of great book content, most of it found on The Page-Turner blog. On The New Yorker‘s Books channel, book reviews, publishing news, essays and articles from the magazine about writing and literature, and New Yorker staff book recommendations. Note that you’ll need a subscription to view more than a few articles a month. I admit I’m a proud subscriber of the magazine; I never recycle the issues, and they take over every corner of the house like an invasive species, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Strengths: Literary criticism, essays, literary fiction, nonfiction, author interviews, book reviews, book recommendations, book news

(16) The New York Times Book Review Online

It would hardly be a list of the best book websites without including The New York Times‘ Book section. After all, The New York Times Book Review is one of the most prestigious and influential periodicals in publishing, and landing a coveted spot on its bestseller lists is just about every writer’s dream. Fortunately, the Review‘s virtual presence is a worthy digital companion to the supplement you’ll find in Saturday’s paper. Online, you’ll get the same great book reviews, essays, and humor sketches, plus some podcasts going inside the Book Review and publishing that week that are seriously worth checking out. Every week I look for the New & Noteworthy feature, which highlights new releases you should put on your radar, and the Editors’ Choice: New Books We Recommend This Week, a weekly list that includes extracts from the critics’ reviews that’ll make you want to read these fresh books. One of my favorite recurring series in the Book Review is the By the Book interviews with writers, thinkers, and creatives, which discuss the bookish life and always includes interesting books to add to your TBR. You can find all of these digitized and uploaded weekly.

Strengths: Book reviews, book recommendations, author interviews, literary criticism, book news, podcasts, previews of new releases, new book discovery

(17) NPR Books

National Public Radio (NPR) has always been ear candy for readers, but now you can get all their great book programming online in one spot. The NPR Books site collects all the author interviews, book reviews, and stories about the reading life that you’ll get on the radio. If you’ve ever had the experience I have where you’ve gotta turn off the car in the middle of a story and you don’t have a pen or paper ready to record a book title or author name, they’ve got you covered. Beyond audio programming, NPR Books has a solid stream of book reviews and feature articles about writing and reading with a focus on diverse authors. Breadth and depth of coverage is a signature of NPR, which is why you’ll find articles about children’s books alongside graphic novels and comics and highbrow literary fiction. NPR Books is known for one more thing: the annual end-of-the-year book concierge. This behemoth of a book recommendation machine is a slick book discovery tool to find more than 300 of the best books of the year. Yes, I said 300. I’ve found so many great books this way, ones that were otherwise overlooked in best-of-the-year lists, and the methods to sort by what you’re in the mood for make this giant list manageable, with some seriously high-quality UX. Oh, yeah: you’ll be working through that list for the rest of the upcoming year.

Strengths: Book reviews, diversity, book list articles, author interviews, book news, all-genre coverage, new book discovery

(18) Publishers Weekly

If it’s publishing industry news you want, Publishers Weekly should be your first stop. Publishers Weekly (PW) is packed with insider-y gossip-y content about what’s hitting the shelves now and soon. Writers will want to check out PW’s articles to get an idea of what agents are buying and what trends are moving through books. I also sometimes mine the announcements that publishers make of new and upcoming books to get ready for upcoming releases and add them to my calendar.

Strengths: Book news, publishing industry information, book list articles, previews of new releases, new book discovery

(19) Read Brightly

Kid lit fans, this one is for you. Read Brightly is an online children’s literature website that’s part of Penguin Random House. Read Brightly is an excellent resource for readers of children’s literature and the adults who help children learn to love reading. One great feature of this website is the way each article is broken down by reading levels, a key distinction that takes the guessing game out of trying to connect children to the most age and reading level appropriate books. A flurry of articles celebrate kid lit, with creative and diverse book lists around categories like “Move Over, Rover: 10 Picture Books That Feature Unusual Pets.” Each month, Read Brightly hosts a reading challenge for kids designed to help them stretch themselves and discover new books. Like Epic Reads, this book website is hosted by a publishing house but features books from all parts of the children’s literature publishing world. Read Brightly truly lives up to its motto “Raise Kids Who Love to Read” as that passion for literacy and raising bookworms comes through in every story they write.

Strengths: Children’s literature, Young Adult (YA) literature, book list articles, previews of new releases, reading challenges, all-genre coverage, book discovery

(20) Tor

Last but definitely not least, Tor is the go-to destination for science fiction and fantasy readers on the literary web. Tor has long published books, but their online presence takes their mission to highlight great voices in speculative fiction and pushes it further, creating a space for a community of SFF fans to grow and thrive. On Tor, you’ll read honest book reviews that are fair and critical of the books and authors in question, original fiction, lists of books, personal essays, eBook deals, SFF industry news, and coverage of SFF-related media, like Game of Thrones. What I like about this site is the freedom that Tor gives its bloggers and staff writers to really speak their minds about books. You might find articles about super-super niche sub-sub-sub genres you didn’t even know were a thing, but you definitely won’t find BS here. This makes Tor a leading place to go for readers who want to dig into the issues behind books.

Strengths: Science fiction, fantasy, SFF related TV shows and movies, book news, book reviews, essays, book list articles, book discovery

More great book websites

Here are a few other book websites you’ll definitely want to check out but didn’t make the full list (because I ran out of time!): Atlas Obscura’s Books Section, Catapult, Flavorwire Books, The New York Review of Books,’s Books Section.

What are some of your favorite book websites? What did I miss? Leave a comment!

The 30 Best Quotes from “Peter Pan”

in Bookish and Book-Related/Lists

I’m writing a Peter Pan retelling this semester, and I knew if I wanted to do it right, I’d have to reread J. M. Barrie’s book—and chop off my hair in a pixie cut to get in character. I’m not sure when my fascination first started with the Peter Pan myth, but I definitely had not read the book the whole way through. Picking it up again made me appreciate how weird and wonderful it is—the anonymous omniscient and very-present narrator, the darker side of Neverland, the achingly bittersweet end—and I marked up my copy with notes, underlines, and stars in the margins for my favorite parts. This article contains the 30 best quotes from Peter Pan with chapter numbers and contextual explanations for you to return to again and again. If you’re just stumbling on this collection of Peter Pan quotes at random, I definitely recommend giving the book a leisurely reading. I think you’ll find it a magical book that earned its spot as a beloved classic of children’s literature.

A quick word about the best editions of Peter Pan

The copy I marked up was just a paperback reprint from Penguin’s Puffin Chalk series, which you can also get in a beautiful hardcover. However, I also own The Annotated Peter Pan, with annotations and comprehensive introductions and appendixes compiled by Maria Tatar. I highly recommend this edition if you want to dig deeper into the history of Peter Pan, the historical and cultural references Barrie was making, and more about the author himself. If you’re into illustrations and/or want to gift someone a deluxe edition, get the Minalima illustrated edition of Peter Pan, with interactive elements like pop ups and activities within the book. You can also read it for free in the public domain through Project Gutenberg, which is what I’ll be linking to in this article. (Each quote will take you to the specific chapter it appears in.)

And just in case… here’s a link to add Peter Pan on Goodreads.

Now on to the 30 best quotes from Peter Pan!

30 Great Peter Pan quotes

Peter Pan statue in London Kensington Gardens
The Peter Pan statue in London’s Kensington Gardens

“All children, except one, grow up.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 1: “Peter Breaks Through” (Barrie’s famous opening line describes Peter’s most definable quality.)

“Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was cleaning up her children’s minds.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 1: “Peter Breaks Through” (Mrs. Darling starts to learn about Peter from her children.)

“At first Mrs. Darling did not know, but after thinking back into her childhood she just remembered a Peter Pan who was said to live with the fairies. There were odd stories about him; as that when children died he went part of the way with them, so that they should not be frightened. She had believed in him at the time, but now that she was married and full of sense she quite doubted whether there was any such person.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 1: “Peter Breaks Through” (Mrs. Darling remembers Peter from her childhood.)

“She asked where he lived. ‘Second to the right,’ said Peter, ‘and then straight on till morning.'” – Peter Pan, Chapter 3: “Come Away, Come Away!” (Peter tells Wendy the address of Neverland)

“‘You see, Wendy, when the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.'” – Peter Pan, Chapter 3: “Come Away, Come Away!” (Peter tells Wendy about the origins of fairies.)

“You just think lovely wonderful thoughts,’ Peter explained, ‘and they lift you up in the air.'” – Peter Pan, Chapter 3: “Come Away, Come Away!” (Peter explains how to fly.)

“So with the occasional tiffs, but on the whole rollicking, they drew near the Neverland; for after many moons they did reach it, and, what is more, they had been going pretty straight all the time, not perhaps so much owing to the guidance of Peter or Tink as because the island was out looking for them. It is only thus that anyone may sight those magic shores.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 4: “The Flight” (To reach Neverland, children have to want to see it, but the island must want you there, otherwise it won’t reveal itself.)

“Thus sharply did the terrified three learn the difference between an island of make-believe and the same island come true.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 4: “The Flight” (The pirates fire at the children.)

“Tink was not all bad: or, rather, she was all bad just now, but on the other hand, sometimes she was all good. Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time. They are, however, allowed to change, only it must be a complete change.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 4: “The Flight” (Tinker Bell schemes to hurt Wendy.)

“He was never more sinister than when he was most polite.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 5: “The Island Come True” (Hook is most menacing when he’s polite and charming.)

“‘Some day,’ said Smee, ‘the clock will run down, and then he’ll get you.’ Hook wetted his dry lips. ‘Aye,’ he said, ‘that’s the fear that haunts me.'” – Peter Pan, Chapter 5: “The Island Come True” (We learn Hook’s greatest fear is the crocodile and its ticking clock.)

“The difference between him and the other boys at such a time was that they knew it was make-believe, while to him make-believe and true were exactly the same thing.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 6: “The Little House” (The Lost Boys and Wendy, John, and Michael build a house they pretend is real)

Animator sketches for the mermaids in Disney’s Peter Pan (1953)

“You must not think from this that the mermaids were on friendly terms with them; on the contrary, it was among Wendy’s lasting regrets that all the time she was on the island she never had a civil word from one of them.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 8: “The Mermaid’s Lagoon” (Wendy is disappointed that the mermaids are not friendlier.)

“In the dark nature there was a touch of the feminine, as in all the great pirates, and it sometimes gave him intuitions.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 8: “The Mermaid’s Lagoon” (Hook’s instincts lead him to think Peter is messing with him in the lagoon.)

“It was then that Hook bit him. Not the pain of this but its unfairness was what dazed Peter. It made him quite helpless. He could only stare, horrified. Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly. All he thinks he has a right to when he comes to you to be yours is fairness. After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but he will never afterwards be quite the same boy. No one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter. He often met it, but he always forgot it. I suppose that was the real difference between him and the rest. So when he met it now it was like the first time; and he could just stare, helpless. Twice the iron hand clawed him.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 8: “The Mermaid’s Lagoon” (Hook takes Peter off guard.)

“Peter was not quite like other boys; but he was afraid at last. A tremor ran through him, like a shudder passing over the sea; but on the sea one shudder follows another till there are hundreds of them, and Peter felt just the one. Next moment he was standing erect on the rock again, with that smile on his face and a drum beating within him. It was saying, ‘To die will be an awfully big adventure.'” – Peter Pan, Chapter 8: “The Mermaid’s Lagoon” (The chapter ends with Peter and Wendy in danger of drowning in the lagoon. This last sentence is one of the most famous from the book.)

“…while, below, the children were having their evening meal; all except PEter, who had gone out to get the time. The way you got the time on the island was to find the crocodile, and then stay near him till the clock struck.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 10: “The Happy Home” (This quote explains how time was told on Neverland, by finding the crocodile.)

“‘You are so queer,’ he said, frankly puzzled, ‘and Tiger Lily is just the same. There is something she wants to be to me, but she says it is not my mother.'” – Peter Pan, Chapter 10: “The Happy Home” (Peter senses that Wendy, like Tiger Lily, has romantic feelings for him but doesn’t recognize what it could be.)

J. M. Barrie with his dog Luath, inspiration for Nana in Peter Pan
J. M. Barrie and his dog, Luath, who inspired the character Nana.

“‘It isn’t that kind of pain,’ Peter replied darkly. ‘Then what kind is it?’ ‘Wendy, you are wrong about mothers.’ They all gathered round him in affright, so alarming was his agitation; and with a fine candour he told them what he had hitherto concealed. ‘Long ago,’ he said, ‘I thought like you that my mother would always keep the window open for me; so I stayed away for moons and moons and moons, and then flew back; but the window was barred, for mother had forgotten all about me, and there was another little boy sleeping in my bed.’ I’m not sure that this was true, but Peter thought it was true; and it scared them.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 11: “Wendy’s Story” (Peter reveals the truth about his grudge against mothers.)

“But of course he cared very much; and he was so full of wrath against grown-ups, who, as usual, were spoiling everything, that as soon as he got inside his tree he breathed intentionally quick short breaths at the rate of about five to a second. He did this because there is a saying in the Neverland that every time you breathe, a grown-up dies; and Peter was killing them off vindictively as fast as possible.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 11: “Wendy’s Story” (In one of the darker features of the island, Peter tries to kill off grown-ups by breathing fast and sharp after Wendy asks him to arrange flight for the children and Lost Boys to return home.)

“The truth is that there was a something about Peter which goaded the pirate captain to frenzy. It was not his courage, it was not his engaging appearance, it was not—. There is no beating about the bush, for we know quite well what it was, and have got to tell. It was Peter’s cockiness.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 12: “The Children are Carried Off” (The narrator explains what made Hook hate Peter so much.

“Sometimes, though not often, he had dreams, and they were more painful than the dreams of other boys. For hours he could not be separated from those dreams, though he wailed piteously in them. They had to do, I think, with the riddle of his existence.” –Peter Pan, Chapter 13: “Do You Believe in Fairies?” (Peter has restless sleep that points to his anxieties about his own curious existence and life.)

“Her voice was so low that at first he could not make out what she said. Then he made it out. She was saying that she thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies.

Peter flung out his arms. There were no children there, and it was night-time; but he addressed all who might be dreaming of the Neverland, and who were therefore nearer to him than you think; boys and girls in their nighties, and naked papooses in their baskets hung from trees.

‘Do you believe?’ he cried.

Tink sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to her fate.

She fancied she heard answers in the affirmative, and then again she wasn’t sure.

‘What do you think?’ she asked Peter.

‘If you believe,’ he shouted to them, ‘clap your hands; don’t let Tink die.’

Many clapped.

Some didn’t.

A few little beasts hissed.

The clapping stopped suddenly, as if countless mothers had rushed to their nurseries to see what on earth was happening; but already Tink was saved.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 13: “Do You Believe in Fairies?” (After Tink drinks the poison Hook put in Peter’s medicine bottle, Peter is honored by her sacrifice and tries to ensure she won’t die.)

NBC mounted a whole new production of Peter Pan in 1976 with Mia Farrow starring as Peter Pan and Danny Kaye as Captain Hook and narration by Sir John Gielgud. Fourteen new songs were written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, and Julie Andrews sang “Once Upon a Bedtime.

“He swore this terrible oath: ‘Hook or me this time.'” – Peter Pan, Chapter 13: “Do You Believe in Fairies?” (Peter resolves that this time, he’s going to truly kill Hook. He repeats his mantra several times throughout the next chapters.)

“But above all he retained the passion for good form.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 14: “The Pirate Ship” (Barrie pokes fun at the absurd decorum Hook both values and feels pressure to adhere to: “good form”)

“‘No little children love me.'” – Peter Pan, Chapter 14: “The Pirate Ship” (Hook’s thoughts reveals a bitter truth that stings him to the core: that no children love him.)

“‘Pan, who and what art though?’ he cried huskily. ‘I’m youth, I’m joy,’ Peter answered at a venture, ‘I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.'” This, of course, was nonsense; but it was proof to the unhappy Hook that Peter did not know in the least who or what he was, which is the very pinnacle of good form.”- Peter Pan, Chapter 14: “The Pirate Ship” (Peter taunts Hook and drives him mad with this statement, which Hook considers good form. Note that the narrator suggests Peter’s boasts might be meaningless nonsense, but Peter believes them.)

“‘George, George,’ she cried when she could speak; and Mr. Darling woke to share her bliss, and Nana came rushing in. There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a strange boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 16: “The Return Home” (Barrie closes the idyllic reunion scene with a reminder of what Peter can and cannot have.)

“In time they could not even fly after their hats. Want of practice, they called it; but what it really meant was that they no longer believed.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 17: “When Wendy Grew Up” (The children grow up and start to believe less in Neverland, meaning they can no longer fly.)

“When Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter’s mother in turn; and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless. THE END.” – Peter Pan, Chapter 17: “When Wendy Grew Up” (The book closes with a nod to the generations of daughters from Wendy’s lineage and the hint that Peter will always be alive as long as children are “gay and innocent and heartless.”)

What are your favorite quotes and characters from Peter Pan?

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