Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Cocoa Guide to Discovering Sparkling Novels

Photo by Sara-Elizabeth Myers - my new favorite book!

There's no specific section in the library for books bubbling with lyrical prose and mythical stories, yet our hearts are still stuck onto these kinds of tales - so how, we ask, do we discover new and exciting reads? How do we find these tiny novellas and towering epics that make our heads spin and our hearts fly out of our chests? There are only so many tried-and-true authors we have under our belt and what happens when no one else is around to give recommendations and we, quite simply, get that insatiable itch to read?

Where to Hunt for Fabulous Reads
+ Dig through the young adult section of your local bookstore or library - I find that some of the most dreamlike and enchanted books somehow always end up categorized there.
+ Used book stores usually have a "vintage" section filled with old kids books and ten cent paperbacks with the most curious and outrageous story-lines. Take a day and explore all of these stores in your area - you might just find some really great deals while you're at it!
+ Hit the nearest comic book store! Crazy as it sounds, most comic book stores carry the best in science-fiction and fantasy, not to mention the fact that you're more than likely to find a thrilling read at a discounted price!
+ Garage sales, garage sales, garage sales! There's no better place for thrilling novels that you won't find anywhere else.

Before you begin your hunt, here are some absolutely amazing, all-around thrilling, super sparkling books to keep your eye out for...

White Oleander by Janet Fitch
If Francesca Lia Block were to write harrowing, epic tragedies, White Oleander would be her first novel. Set in Los Angeles against a hazy, blooming landscape, a mother-daughter relationship is shattered after poetess Ingrid Magnussen poisons her backstabbing boyfriend with the blossoms of oleanders. Consequently her fifteen year old daughter, Astrid, is faced with the all-too harsh realities of foster homes and adoption agencies, bouncing between dilapidated houses and all too unfit guardians for the remainder of the novel. The tear-jerking story and lyrical prose are both beautiful, but nothing short of heart-wrenching - just when Astrid seems to get a break, some terrible tragedy occurs and she's forced to start all over again. Nevertheless, White Oleander is an absolutely gorgeous work of fiction that deserves every piece of praise that it gets - if you're looking for something especially lovely to read, give this doorstop of a book a glance.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
When I first picked up this tiny little gem, I expected something strictly fairy-tale-esque - something dreamy and hazy, a fantastic world that evoked Alice in Wonderland and the eccentricity and wonder of being young again. Instead, The Book Of Lost Things presented the Brother Grimm world with a fiercely woozy twist, one that's mature and real rather than mild and childlike. It evokes a slightly less gothic yet similar nonetheless feel to that of American McGee's Alice at parts, and at others it shines brightly in the same manner as the original fairy tales themselves. In black and white, it tells the haunting story of a young boy, isolated in life and driven to a state of childish jealousy when his father remarries and has a second child. The only place he can seem to find solace is in the pages of his books, dusty old things that speak to him in the middle of the night, whispering secrets and stories and tales of their lives. It is only when one night, during the all-out bedlam of a World War II air raid, that he gets sucked into their paperback world and everything truly changes, and he finds himself in charge of a life-changing decision - is it better to face the modern horrors of growing up or those shadowy ones of childhood?

After Dark by Haruki Murakami
As a preface, I’m hardly exaggerating when I say that this is one of the most interesting, well-rounded, and comprehensively thrilling reads that I’ve ever gotten my hands on in my history of literacy. It’s an eccentrically simple story, following a strange brood of characters through the electric world that is Tokyo at night and mapping out their connections to each other - a Chinese girl is robbed and abandoned in a "love hotel", a quirky trombonist meets the sister of the girl of his dreams in a Denny's, a group of women with oddly unfitting names find themselves in the grungiest of districts at night, and a young woman who is trapped in a Sleeping Beauty-esque sleep gets transported into a strange and mysterious world inside of her television. After Dark is storytelling at its best, comprehensively capturing what its like to be a night owl in an electric city, from the cast of characters to the script-like narrative. Pick it up now and experience it for yourself!

Mondo Barbie
I'm consistently shocked when I reference this book in everyday life and others have no idea what I'm talking about. Mondo Barbie is an eccentric, flirtatious, and sometimes dirty compilation of short stories and poems all about America's favorite pink plastic sweetheart - that go-go girl herself, Miss Barbara Millicent Roberts. The book turns a modern bubblegum twist on the doll that almost all baby girls grew up with, exposing her stunningly deep impact on twentieth century life, culture, sexuality, and everything else through sweetly short valley girl novellas printed on petunia pink paper. Because really, who doesn't want to be a Barbie girl?

The Gift Moves by Steve Lyon
In a Hayao Miyazaki-esque world where buses are living, breathing creatures that pad across the country side and whole families tattoo their names and stories across their bodies, a girl leaves home with dreams of apprenticing in the city and learning the art of weaving. As she is taught how to dye fabric the most brilliant of colors and work a loom so large that it takes up a whole room by a mild old woman named Heron, secrets begin to unfold and her path in life criss-crosses in the most unexpected of places. The Gift Moves is a mystifying novel about soul-searching and the things that bind us to life, no matter how everyday they may seem, and is one of those rare electrified books that leaves you transfixed with the dreamworld contained inside of its pages.

The Every Boy by Dana Adam Shapiro
There's no more cheery an example of death and rebirth than that contained inside of this upbeat recollection of fifteen year old Henry Every's life. After washing ashore with no clues to his death, Henry's parents discover a meticulously organized ledger recalling every melancholy and rapturous moment of his short yet quirky life, from his obsessive love for a teenaged New Yorker named Benna to comically illegal episodes performed with his partner in crime, Jorden. A charmingly sweet yet tragic novel, it's heartwarming in a curious sort of way that will leave you wishing for more of its kind. I promise you that as soon as you've turned the last page you'll ask why your childhood couldn't have been this interesting.

Green Angel by Alice Hoffman
To all of those searching for magic in novels, for quiet tales with modern day mysticism, for daydream-esque worlds painted through sticky-sweet words, for some tiny piece of fiction that can never be categorized, never be shelved properly, something that belongs to more than just children or young adults or quiet pre-teens, Green Angel may just be exactly what you've been searching for. It's a hauntingly lean novel, telling the story of shadowy and shy Green who, after an apocalyptic fire rages in large scale, is left empty and alone. With nothing but the house she grew up in and a garden soaked in ashes, she morphs through her teenaged years into a leather-clad warrior, a negative of her former self, blind from the ash and tattooed with her sorrow. Through chance encounters and the help of other survivors, though, she rediscovers herself and finds that sometimes disaster can lead to true inner-happiness.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
I can’t say enough about this book. Neil Gaiman brings fairy tales back from the depths of history and revives them with a newfound vigor in this incredible, imaginative novel. If you’ve seen the movie and thought it was just a little too cheeky for you, then this book is absolutely a must-read – the novel version is just a little bit darker while still retaining that wide-eyed charm that most fairy-tales have. It’s so nice to see a revival of this genre since no truly good fairy-tales have been written since the 18th century, and I definitely think that Neil Gaiman is just the man to tackle its Renaissance.

Penelope ♥


Bridey said...

I always have trouble finding new books to read, thanks for the wonderful suggestions!

Gem said...

i'm always looking for great new reads. I loved White Oleander, I'm going to have to look for all those other ones now!

Rie said...

Glorious! You simply must do a guest review at LSL.

The Gift Moves and White Oleander are two of my favorite books, and the rest look so wonderful.

Anonymous said...

The only one I've read is Stardust, but the rest sound excellent And you especially seem to have a good sense of books and literature, so I know I can trust your advice :)

You should do this more often. I'm always looking for a new read, so whenever you find something particularly magnificent.

Kitty said...

I love second-hand book stores! I used to live at Barnes & Nobels, but when I moved to the UK, I found a gorgeous second-hand book store tucked away on a little cobble stone street just off of the market square, and I fell in love. I recently found a copy of Pride and Prejudice there that was printed over 100 years ago. Totally beats the average bookstore paperback!

Leeann said...

I think this is just what I needed, I've been dying to get lost in a beautiful novel. Thank you Penelope!

mysterycreature said...

Good book reccommendation! Murakamiis fantastic - my favourites are Norwegian Wood (a great one to start out reading, since Murakami tends to challenge your normal book percptions, and this one is a bit more grounded!), Kafka, and After dark.

Once again, good choices!

Caroline said...

I LOVED both The Book of Lost Things and Stardust. After Dark and White Oleander are both on my "to read" pile.

I find a really good way to find new books is to talk to (or mooch around the bookshelves of) someone from a different generation with whom you get on well. I discovered many a jewel of a book through my ex's Mum, including Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop, definitely one of my all-time faves! I had read Nights at the Circus, Wise Children and The Bloody Chamber (all amazing btw) but none of her older stuff. The Magic Toyshop is one of her first.I'm confident you'l love it! x

Ash said...

Thanks for the suggestions. I find I've been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, so this list gives me a great spring-board back into the world of fiction :)

heldasland said...

I love white oleander fabulous read,love all your suggestions. Your blog is so interesting Im from swapbot (seygirl

BarelyKnitTogether said...

I'm SO glad you were paired with me for the swap-bot thing. This is fabulous! I have a hard time finding fiction I really enjoy reading, also, and these are great ideas. Love the idea of stalking comic book stores; fantasy and even graphic novels can have great story lines. I wanted to let you know I was here, but now I'm off to read more of your posts. Thank you for the great book reviews!

HeatherBabe said...

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