This year there have been a lot of fantastic books adapted to the big screen: Twelve Years a Slave, Catching Fire (The Hunger Games trilogy), The Great Gatsby, Warm Bodies, Admission, World War Z and The Book Thief  — just to name a few!  Right before an adapted movie comes out, many scramble to read the book first. In that rush it becomes difficult to find a copy that isn’t checked out.  To prepare for the new year and start planning your reading, here are some of the books that you may want to read before you watch (who doesn’t want to get to yell, “The book was better!” in a crowded theater?)

Following successful film adaptations of Twilight and The Hunger Games series, movie studios are continuing to bank on YA dystopian sci-fi and paranormal romance series. With planned releases of  Divergent by Veronica Roth, Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, The Giver by Lois Lowry (finally!),  and The Maze Runner by James Dashner (the first part of the third book in The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay is also due to be released in November) fans of speculative teen fiction have plenty to read in preparation.

Realistic fiction and a stand alone, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is another popular YA book set to debut next year (if you want updates, John Green has been pretty open about the process on twitter), and will star Shailene Woodley  (who is also staring in Divergent).

Not all of the books adapted for the big screen next year will be targeted at young adults. In August, Helen Mirren is set to star in what has been described in the New York Times as Slumdog Millionaire meets Ratatouille, The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais.  Gillian Flynn’s massively popular Gone Girl  is due for an October release, starring Ben Affleck and directed by David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club).  And if you really want to get a head start, the release of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James is planned for February of 2015.

ocdthedudeandmeI recently finished the extraordinarily good Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and as much as I’d love to talk at length about my love for that book, Lexie already beat me to it. Shucks.  So, instead, I’m going to write about my second favorite young adult novel about a red-headed social misfit published this year — Lauren Roedy Vaughn’s OCD, The Dude, and Me.

Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in (has there ever been a young adult book about someone well-adjusted?  Would anyone want to read it?)  Diagnosed with OCD, she attends an alternative high school and has to see the school psychologist to work on her social skills.  With no friends and a rotten self-image, Danielle’s energy goes into rearranging her snowglobe collection, writing and reading, and pining for her crush, Jacob.  That is, until she meets Daniel, a fellow outsider who introduces Danielle to the cult classic, The Big Lebowski and they find themselves at Lebowskifest (something that I’m happy to report is real), a place where Danielle finally feels like she belongs.

Vaughn chose to introduce Danielle diary style — through her school essays, journal entries, and email exchanges– to great effect.  Witty and sarcastic, Danielle steadily grows up as the year passes.  As she gains confidence, she becomes more likable — a concept that may be inspiring to the self-deprecating among us.  Fans of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky should pick OCD, The Dude, and Me.

Margo Lanagan is an artist, and Tender Morsels is a potent story, rich in magic and full of feeling. Liga, with a babe in arms and another on the way – both forced on her in the most unpleasant ways you care to imagine – is rescued from her miserable life by an elemental creature, removed to her Heart’s Desire: her personal heaven, a world that narrowly overlaps her real pre-industrial, vaguely-historical, sort-of-European one. The boundary is firm for a while and Liga raises her daughters in peace and safety, but eventually people start poking their way through – in both directions. What follows is a meditative, surprising, totally unique tale of self discovery, familial and romantic love, magic, fear, and growing up. It’s slow paced and knotted with complex, beautiful language. It’s brilliant and mature and devastating, but uplifting at the same time. Tender Morsels is based on the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. It fills in the bones of that story, adding motivation to the characters and a reason to the movements of the plot, which always bends to fit the whims of the magic, and never the other way around.

 “You are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart.”

This book isn’t for everyone: the plot hinges on violence and sexual abuse, so those who are uncomfortable with those topics will be unhappy with this book. It’s written for a teenage audience, but the complexity of the writing and some mature content mean that it’s better suited for older teens or adults who read YA.

Some more novels based on fairy tales:

princess academyMiri feels useless.  While her father, sister, and all of her peers work in the quarry mining linder all day, Miri is forced to stay out of the quarry and tend to her home.  She believes that her father keeps her home due to her small stature, and this makes her a burden for the entire Mount Eskel village. When it is announced that the prince will be choosing the next princess from among the girls of Mount Eskel, Miri believes that this is her chance to prove her worth to her father and her community.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is a gem of a book. One of the biggest criticisms of middle grade fiction is that authors often tell, rather than show. They tell the reader how to feel about a character without letting the reader get to know the character on their own.  But Hale masterfully shows the reader that Miri is moral, quick witted, funny, loyal, and strong through Miri’s words and actions.  Just like Miri, the reader is conflicted about whether she would be better off marrying the prince and getting to travel and learn or if she should return to her village that she loves to help better her people.  This is a conflict that many smart, talented young women deal with as they make their transition from hometown life, to college, and then to a career.

While there are a number of fantastic princess books from Ella Enchanted to The Secret Lives of Princesses to The Princess Knight, Hale is able to do something unique with this book.  She isn’t just presenting an internal conflict of a young woman wanting to prove herself (although that conflict plays an important role in the novel), but Hale goes beyond that to create a protagonist that understands the importance of community and family.

rookie1.cover_webGet this book for any teen girl you know. Tavi’s online zine, Rookie Mag, has been collecting accolades since the fifteen-year-old blogger started it from her Midwestern bedroom. Tavi has been a respected style blogger since 2008, when she began her fashion blog Style Rookie at the tender age of eleven. Since then, she’s been invited to attend and review fashion shows all over the world, but it’s not just clothes anymore; this clever writer and all-around gifted young woman has created a magazine where teens can go for conversations with other teens about school, friends, music and movies, feminism, body image and self esteem, fashion, sex, and all the minutiae of teenage life that seems so monumental to those who are living it. She writes about the problems and the questions that real, modern teens have. She’s frank and funny and I wish I’d been even one-tenth as smart and confident as she is when I was a teenager. What I’m getting at is: here is a great, realistic role model. And a great book!

Rookie: Yearbook One is an ink & paper retrospective of the online magazine’s first year. It contains a lot of writing by Tavi, but it’s been touched by dozens of others; Miranda July, Lena Dunham, Aubrey Plaza, Joss Whedon, Patton Oswalt, and many others make appearances – either in pieces they’ve written for the magazine or as the subject of one of Tavi’s excellent interviews (I love how she is just as comfortable grilling Whedon about his modern-day interpretation of the sexual politics of “Much Ado About Nothing” as she is sharing a laugh with Plaza about how much they love the film “Reality Bites”). These are articles that matter, ideas that resonate, and interviews that are exciting and in-depth; it’s also lighthearted (you’ll love the section on how to cry without anyone catching you), and the graphic design of the book is phenomenal. If you have any taste for collage (and a little bit of the ridiculous) your eyes will pop at the juxtaposition of textures, photos, and hand-drawn illustrations. It’s just amazing, and I wish so much that I’d had it when I was a teenager!

EEOnce I devoured Gail Carriger’s excellent Parasol Protectorate series, I was delighted to see that Etiquette & Espionage represents her return to the same steampunk universe of  Soulless et al. It is also a first foray for Carriger into the field of YA. This is a true YA title – it’s perfect for, and I’d recommend it heartily to, almost any teenager/YA reader. It takes place at school; the main character is 14; the gore/sex/four-letter-words are tame or nonexistent. There’s a lot of emphasis on self-discovery, resourcefulness, learning, and intelligence, as well as bravery and friendship. The only element of a typical teen novel missing? ROMANCE!

In Carriger’s adult series, romance and sex were a huge driving force behind both the plot and the characters’ motivations. Without ever being crass or gratuitous, those books are about the way adults fall in love and stay in love – emotionally and physically. But in Etiquette & Espionage, the much, much younger teenage characters are motivated by entirely different things. Sophronia, the main character, is a “covert recruit” at a floating school for future spies; here, she’ll be trained to curtsy perfectly, measure poisons precisely, and wield sewing scissors to deadly ends. Sophronia is interested in boys, and she knows about feminine charms and how she might need to deploy them in her career as a spy, but her motivation is never reduced to the moronic, unimportant whine of “I want a boyfriend!! Why doesn’t a boy love me?!” – a fixture of many other YA titles. As the series goes on and Sophronia grows up, I fully expect Ms. Carriger to allow her to expand her romantic interests in a way that is intelligent and logical for her age, but in the meantime I’m thrilled to read a novel about the teenage experience outside of the desperate “need” for a boyfriend. Etiquette & Espionage is refreshing, exciting, and leaves the door open for a bevy of sequels that will be even better now that the groundwork has been laid.

seraphinaRachel Hartman’s Seraphina is my new favorite book of dragon fantasy. In it, dragons – an unfeeling, coldly mathematical species which can fold themselves into human shape – have shared an uneasy peace with Seraphina’s homeland of Goredd for 40 years. Prejudice and naked hatred between the two races exists everywhere, and on the eve of the peace treaty’s fortieth anniversary, tensions are running high. Add to this mix a murdered prince (whose missing head strongly suggests dragon involvement) and a smart, curious young woman with a unique ability to understand dragon culture and you have a recipe for intrigue. Seraphina is a gifted musician and the assistant to the court composer, which makes her a minor member of the royal court. Her talent is making her famous, but she has secrets to keep; preserving those secrets while at the same time investigating a royal murder and befriending the presumptive heirs (Princess Glisselda and her fiancé, the bastard Prince Lucian) puts Seraphina in a lot of tight spots. Her friends; her life; her sanity; her secrets – what will Seraphina sacrifice to protect the peace?

I have no complaints about this novel; it’s perfectly paced, gorgeously written, and well imagined, all of which shines through a multi-layered and complicated plot that never gets out of Hartman’s control. The characters are inspirational in their intelligence and bravery yet relatable in their worries and failures. There’s intrigue and mystery as well as philosophy and breathless action, and even a bit of romance. Seraphina’s romance with Lucian is wonderfully subtle and genuine – a true meeting of the minds. Hartman is so busy writing about their meaningful conversations and compatible personalities that I’m not even sure I know what Lucian looks like! Seraphina has more important things to think about than the color of his eyes.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman is the first in a trilogy of fantasy novels, but don’t worry: since they’re written for a YA/mature child audience, it’s not nearly the kind of time commitment that most fantasy series are. The first novel follows Lyra Belacqua, a precocious 12 year old girl who lives in a universe parallel to our own: in her world, each human is accompanied at all times by an animal daemon – a physical manifestation of their soul and a lifelong companion. For children like Lyra, the form of the daemon is in flux, taking the shapes of different animals depending on the person’s mood or circumstances. Lyra is a wonderful fantasy heroine: she’s tough and smart and relatable, and her journey isn’t just an adventure but a moving tale of growing up. She sets out to rescue a friend who’s been kidnapped by the mysterious, possibly malevolent Magisterium; on the way, she meets gypsies and witches and powerful Magisterium officials, and learns how to use a device called an Alethiometer that can answer any question with absolute truth.

The next two novels, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, follow Lyra’s further journey to fulfill her destiny. The trilogy has been banned or challenged on the grounds of Political Viewpoint, Religious Viewpoint, and Violence. To learn more about this book, censorship, and Banned Books Week, check out the ALA Banned Books Week website.

For this installment of Amazing Audiobooks, I have a jumble of fun, funny, exciting, just-plain-great fiction that didn’t fit with the previous three categories. But you have my word: all these are winners!

  • Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. You’ll laugh out loud at this one, in which the Apocalypse goes all wrong when an angel and a demon accidentally swap out the Antichrist for a normal human boy.
  • The charming Flavia de Luce Mysteries by C. Alan Bradley, beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  • Calico Joe by John Grisham
  • 11th Hour, the latest from James Patterson (or if you’re new to the Women’s Murder Club series, start at the beginning with 1st to Die)
  • …In Death series by J.D. Robb: a futuristic police procedural – particularly recommended for those who like listening to sexy, seductive, lilting Irish accents.
  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, a novel about a college baseball phenom (I reviewed the novel in June)
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: A deeply sad but very sweet and rewarding novel; tells the story of a girl who learns about death and love while helping her parents hide a Jewish man from the Nazis in a small German town. Appropriate for teens and older kids as well as adults.
  • Stephen King’s latest hit, 11/22/63, about JFK’s assassination and time travel.
  • The Night Circus, a lovely atmospheric love story brought to life by Jim Dale. Lexie reviewed this on the blog back in October. There’s a movie version in development scheduled for a 2013 release, so get in on the ground floor of opinionated ‘book-was-better’ arguments by reading the book first!
  • Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella: listen to Lara, a twenty-something Brit, spar with the ghost of her great-aunt Sadie, whose 23-year-old form has come straight out of 1927 to beg the living girl to track down her missing necklace. It’s a hoot!

With the winter 2011 release of the penultimate fourth film, this franchise is enjoying yet another surge in popularity. Whatever your reason for bypassing this phenomenally popular quartet of books, these suggestions will point you in the right direction!

If you loved Meyer’s style (quick-reading prose for young adults with paranormal elements and pervasive-yet-tame romance) and want to read something similar, you should try

  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. In this tale, Sam is a werewolf who must return to his lupine life when the temperature drops (rather than when the moon waxes). Grace, his human lover and best friend, must find a way to deal with this intrusion of the supernatural on her typical teen life. Like Twilight, this is the first in a series.
  • Josephine Angelini’s debut novel Starcrossed spins a similarly romantic, exciting tale full of unusual and fantastic elements; in this novel, shy Helen Hamilton discovers that she has an extraordinary part to play in the modern continuation of the Greek myth of Helen of Troy. (first in a planned trilogy)
  • Marked by P.C. Cast, the first entry of a vampire series for teens that takes place in a world where vampires have always existed and train together at an elite school known as the House of Night. Zoey Redbird, a 16 year old fledgeling vampire, negotiates her new life at the school in this multi-volume series.

If you adore vampires, shapeshifters, and paranormal oddities but were left cold by Meyer’s teen-focused love story, try these titles for a steamier scare:

If your interest in vampires and supernatural forces hasn’t abated but you crave a more challenging text with a literary feel, try…