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60 years ago, the recently deceased Norton Juster published the children’s fantasy novel The Phantom Tollbooth, probably never imagining that it would still be popular 60 years later, or that it would become a children’s classic. 

 

I first met Milo and company when I was 9-years-old and in 4th grade. My teacher was a big believer in reading novels aloud, and she started reading us Juster’s book. I’ve always loved reading, but of all the books I’ve ever read or had read to me, this one is not only my favourite children’s book, but my favourite book of all time, and one which I’ve revisited several times as an adult.

 

phantom tollbooth cover / a drawing of milo and a dog creature with a clock imbedded in its side, on a blue fieldIf you’re not familiar with the story, it begins with a bored little boy named Milo, who despite having a room full of toys and games, is bored. Sounds like a familiar scenario right? One day, a mysterious package arrives in his room. He has no idea where it came from or who sent it, but he decides to open it. Inside the package is a tollbooth and a map of the Lands Beyond, including the Kingdom of Wisdom. Lacking anything else to do, he decides to try it out.

 

After going through the tollbooth, Milo finds himself on a road that is decidedly not his apartment, and this is where his adventure begins. As he travels through Wisdom, Milo learns the history of the kingdom, and is set on an important quest. You see, once upon a time, the Kingdom was ruled by two brothers. One was a word wizard, the other a math magician. They also had two sisters named Rhyme and Reason who kept balance in the kingdom.

 

Let’s just say that the brothers had some issues sharing power, each thinking that they were the more important. In an attempt to settle their quarrel once and for all, they called upon their sisters to tell them whether numbers or letters were the more important. The sisters ruled that both were equally important, enraging the brothers who banished them to the Castle in the Air, and split the kingdom in two- Dictionopolis and Digitopolis.

 

Now if it were up to Milo, who seldom stayed interested in anything for long, he’d probably have just gone home and abandoned the Tollbooth to a corner with his other toys. Instead, however, King Azas the Unabridged (can you guess which kingdom he rules over?) tricks Milo into accepting a quest to rescue the princesses and restore rhyme and reason to the kingdom (literally and figuratively).

 

Throughout his journey, Milo travels to the land of Expectations which is literally whatever you expect it to be, gets stuck in the Doldrums which is about as dull and drab as you’d imagine, visits a word market where words and letters are sold, and attends a banquet where guests literally eat their words.

 

He also meets a number of colourful characters such as the Whether Man who tells him whether there will be whether instead of what the weather will be, the Which Witch known as Faintly Macabre, a spelling bee, and the "watch" dog named Tock (who actually goes tick) whose job it is to keep people from killing time, and a 12-sided creature called Dodecahedron to name a few.

 

Once his quest is complete, Milo is returned home. He immediately makes plans to return the next day after school, but discovers that the Tollbooth is a lot like Mary Poppins, and only goes where it’s needed. While he’s mildly disappointed by this, he also looks at his own world with fresh eyes and realizes that he has lots to do right there.

 

As a kid, I loved the adventure, the fantasy world, and the strange characters. By that point I was well into books by Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis, and I’d gone down the Rabbit hole and into Oz, but this was something entirely different. I’m not sure if I fully understood the deeper messages of the book when I was 9, but the subtlety, along with the word play, is what makes it brilliant.

 

We can all relate to Milo, and kids aren’t the only ones who have looked around at all of their stuff and still complained of having nothing to do. Milo also learns that memorization (which he associates with education) is not the same as learning, and that law isn’t the same as justice. He learns to think in the abstract, the danger of jumping to conclusions, not to accept conformity, and to appreciate the journey and not focus solely on getting to where he’s trying to go.

 

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the book comes when Milo learns that the quest was supposed to be impossible. He was able to succeed because he believed in what was possible and not what wasn’t, and that’s something we can all do well to remember. 

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

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I love speculative novels that pose interesting questions that apply to real life, and particularly ones that have no easy answers.  Is it worth sacrificing your identity if it also meant erasing your most painful memories? If you knew you had a day left to live, how would you spend it? These questions are the central ideas of the novels by the brilliant YA writer Adam Silvera.

 

More happy than not cover / the title in large blue block letters, imposed over a close up of a yellow smiley faceSeveral years ago I had the privilege of getting to know Adam when we both contributed to the same blog. Adam was on the cusp of publishing his first novel More Happy Than Not (which recently published a 5th anniversary edition). Since then, Adam has published several more books, and in all of them he tackles the heavy questions of love, loss, identity, and how we live. 

 

Comped to the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, More Happy Than Not follows 15-year-old Aaron Soto who is struggling with grief over his father’s suicide, and issues of identity, love, and self-acceptance. Adam is lucky in that he has a supportive mother and girlfriend, but his mom works two jobs and can’t be around all of the time, and while his girlfriend tries, he just can’t seem to make himself happy.

 

When his girlfriend goes away to art camp for a couple of weeks, he starts hanging out with new kid Thomas. When he’s with Thomas, he feels happy and safe, but Thomas’ constant presence is creating tension within his group of friends and his girlfriend, and the deeper his feelings grow, the more terrified he becomes.

 

Desperate to do something, he considers undergoing a controversial memory alteration procedure that claims to erase painful memories. If it works, maybe it can erase his grief, and help him get over being gay. But what if it also ends up erasing him?

 

It’s a wonderful work of speculative fiction, and it begs the question how far would you go to erase painful memories? Are our identities shaped by our memories, and in erasing those memories, we do effectively erase what makes us ourselves. Is that cost worth it to give us the happy ending we so desperately want, or is life, as Aaron concludes, “more happy than not?”

 

Ithey both die at the end cover / who figures in sahdown walking along a railing while behind them, a city scape is haloed by a full moonn his third novel They Both Die At the End , Silvera gives his readers another philosophical question to ponder: How would you spend your last day?

 

The novel focuses on two teenaged boys named Mateo and Rufus, who thanks to the company Death-Cast’s predictive technology, learn they have one day left to live. The tech isn’t so far advanced as to give them an exact time or cause of death, and there’s always the niggly question of whether death can be cheated.

 

Initially, the conservative Mateo planned to spend the day in his apartment, but on a whim decides to spend his last day actually living. He meets Rufus through the Last Friend App- an app designed to give Deckers (the dying) someone to hang out with on their last day. They decide to go full on Carpe Diem, and as the day progresses, their friendship turns into something deeper.

 

As I was reading, I found myself imagining what I would do in their shoes. Would I try to see all of my family and friends and say goodbye? Would I try some of the things I always wanted to do but was too afraid to, or would I play it safe and stay in bed reading or watching tv hoping to cheat fate?

 

What I found particularly interesting about the scenario is how knowing your death date can shape your choices. Throughout the day, Mateo and Rufus have numerous close calls where they think “this is the moment. This is how I die,” but being in that place at that time is 100% driven by the choices they made as a result of knowing that they will die before the day is up. If it was a day like any other, there are probably 100 choices that you might make that doesn’t put you in harm’s way, or maybe knowing doesn’t matter because fate is fixed and you were destined to die. The paperback edition is currently on the NYT besteller list, so now's a good time to add it to your collection if you don't already have it. 

 

The second book in Silvera's new Infinity Cycle fantasy series, called Infinity Reaper, released this past March, and both of those titles are definitely worth adding to your YA collection.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Readings!

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As part of our ARP services, we manage the holds lists for a few of our libraries, and in the last few weeks I noticed something interesting in the holds. While most are current bestselling titles or the latest celebrity book club title from Oprah or Reese, once in a while an older title pops up that gives me pause.

 

song of achilles by madeline miller / a golden Grecian helmet on a turquois fieldSong of Achilles by Madeline Miller, a nearly 10-year-old fiction book with a moderate amount of popularity suddenly spiked on three different lists, prompting me to do a bit of digging into why. My first assumption was that there was recent media surrounding the book such as a TV appearance, or a movie or TV announcement but that wasn’t the case. After a bit more investigating, I discovered that the book is very popular on “TikTok, signaling the growing influence of the book side of TikTok.

 

If you’re not familiar with TikTok, it’s a video-sharing social network used to share a variety of short-form videos ranging from 15 seconds to a minute. In recent months, the bookish community have started using the platform to post videos recommending books and about and their general love of books, now commonly referred to as BookTok.

 

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria Schwab / the title on a black field with a constellation within the word, connected with golden threadIn addition to popularizing Miller’s book, one viral video significantly increased sales in Victoria Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, Midnight Library by Matt Haig, and They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, all three of which are books I highly recommend as well.

 

Now publishers are wisely recognizing the value and influence of BookTok just as they did with bloggers several years ago, and are not only creating a presence for themselves on the platform, but are reaching out to the BookTokers to send them advance reading copies of books they’d like to promote, and even paying them to make videos about them.

 

midnight library by matt haig / a white building filled with rainbow light, against a blue-black fieldRight now, the platform is primarily used by the 16-30 age range, with YA fiction being some of the most talked about books, but it has been invaluable in bringing attention to books with more diverse plots and authors, as well as introducing readers to genres and titles that they may never have discovered otherwise.

 

If you’re interested in checking out BookTok, sign up for a free TikTok account, and search the hashtag #Booktok where you’ll find a variety of creators to follow. Searching that hashtag also brought up #BookRecommendations and #bookish for some additional book-related content. I confess that I was somewhat overwhelmed when I first started looking into it, but there’s something for everybody including  dystopian, books that had the reader sobbing, heartbreaking books, if you like this Netflix show, read this, and books that the reader would “sell their soul” to read again. That last one certainly piqued my curiosity!

 

they both die at the end by adam silvera / two figures in silhouette walk along a railing with a grim reaper cast in their shadow. in the background a city scape rises, with a full moon peaking out behind a skyscraperAs for what caused the sudden explosion of BookTok? Some people attribute it to the ongoing pandemic to driving more people online, and with bookstores and libraries being closed across the U.S. and Canada, it does seem natural that people would start using social media to find like-minded people. It probably also helps that more and more authors are joining the community and discussing their writing process, which definitely appeals to the sector of their fandom who love to analyze all of the details of a favourite book.

 

If time is a at a premium (and when isn’t it to be honest), and you just want to know what books are popular, you can find a top 10 BookTok list on Indigo’s website, a slightly longer BookTok list on Barnes and Noble, or on the Goodreads BookTok shelf.

 

It’s hard to predict how BookTok will evolve over the next few years, but if Miller’s surge in popularity is any indication, I think it's safe to predict that it will become an increasingly important place for book discussion and discovery.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

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In some of my previous posts I’ve talked about my effort to deliberately seek out new genres and authors to stretch myself as a reader. For every 100 books that I read, there’s hundreds more that I haven’t read, and the ever-so-helpful reading lists generated by magazines and websites remind me of that fact.

 

Let’s be honest. Humans are creatures of habit, and time is limited. When it comes to books, it’s tempting to stick to what we know we like and never take a risk on anything new. In seeking out new authors and somewhat less publicized titles, I’ve discovered a lot of really great books that I never would have guessed I’d like. Like so many readers, I always fantized about having the time to read them all. Then... the world was on lockdown. Theoritically I could concentrate on checking out of all the interesting new e-books I’d put on hold months ago. Instead, I started seeking out some of the familiar bestselling authors I know I’ve enjoyed in the past.

 

Before books became my career, I read everything by authors such as Nora Roberts, and Stephen King. If I found a new title by these authors in the bookstore I’d grab it, and probably read it right away. My not reading them in recent years wasn’t due to a loss of interest or a dislike of their books, but time. Time was a factor in losing track of many popular authors who I enjoyed, and as much as I’ve tried to keep up with their books, I realized long ago that I can’t read everything.

 

Any avid reader will admit that their To Be Read pile contains more books than they’ll read in a lifetime (I know mine does) and sometimes, my desire to read whatever catches my attention at the moment overtakes my desire to read something by someone I already like- especially when I know the author is a bestseller and will be a must-have for libraries regardless of whether I read it.

 

Coming back to these authors felt like a comfortable old piece of clothing for my brain when the daily news was too bleak to follow and my stress-levels were at their max. They’ve been around for years, they’re familiar, and other than briefly wondering if they were still a good fit after so many years, there wasn’t a lot of risk involved in reading them. I knew I’d enjoyed them in the past, and I knew exactly what I could expect from their books.

 

Under Currents by Nora Roberts / a dock on a lake, shrouded in purple lightAs it turned out, I enjoyed the books very much, and I felt a teeny pang of remorse that it took me so long to get to them. Under Currents by Nora Roberts 3889630 was a good blend of romance and suspense, and I was so invested in the characters that I was physically worried for them whenever they were in peril. The romance was predictable, but Roberts writes well, and predictable fit the bill of what I was looking for. A little bit of substance, a little bit of sweet, and happily ever after.

 

The Institute by Stephen King /  a boy sitting on a bed in a bedroom that is inside a train car on a trackThe Institute by Stephen King 3629240 was every bit as creepy and disturbing as I’d remembered his books being, and it was a good thrill. The premise was original, the bad guys were really bad, and naturally, everything boiled down to good-versus-evil. While it’s not the same kind of happy ending that you get from a romance novel or a fairy tale, it was a satisfying ending, and it felt good to see good triumph.

 

In the end, going back to these old favourites turned out to be a great thing because I realized something important. As important as it is to read broadly and diversely, it’s also important to read what and who you like, and in my efforts to stretch, I lost sight of the importance of comfort reading. Not everything I read has to a well-reviewed title or by someone I’ve never read before. Discovering new authors is great, but sometimes you just need those comfy old sweats to feel comfortable.

 

The Return by Nicholas Sparks / a flower framed porch and doorNow that a year has passed and the world might start to go back to normal, I took some time to review my holds list at the library. I added some new books to the list by more of my favourites, and am really excited to rediscover some of the books I’ve missed by Barbara Taylor Bradford, Nicholas Sparks, and more. Hopefully reading them will make me happy, and the best part is that I won’t feel guilty at all if and when they do.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

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Have you ever had a book or a series that you absolutely loved when you were a child, only to realize that it doesn’t hold up under a 21st century lens? If it has, you’re not alone. As the world changes, so does how we look at beloved movies, television shows, and books. And sometimes, especially when it comes to our favourite children’s books, what we find when we revisit them as adults can be disappointing and disturbing. Feeling nostalgia for a particular story doesn’t mean the problems aren’t there or that we shouldn’t acknowledge them and address them.  

 

if i ran the zoo cover / a dr seuss creature against a bright red coverClassic children’s literature is going through something of a reckoning as librarians, publishers, and the public come to terms with some of the more troubling aspects of our childhood favourites. Recently, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced a decision to stop publishing and licensing six of the titles from their catalogue including: If I Ran the Zoo, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and McElligot’s Pool. The decision came last year after a review by a panel of experts (including librarians and educators) determined that the titles contained racist and offensive portrayals of Asian and Black People.

 

green eggs and ham cover / a dr seuss creature starring at a plate of green eggs against an orange fieldIt is also important to note that Seuss’s most beloved titles such as Cat in the Hat, Horton, and Green Eggs and Ham aren’t going anywhere, and the Enterprise’s decision to pull a handful of titles is in no way a suggestion that Seuss should be fully removed from the canon. For the most part the decision has been celebrated. Mullberry Street was originally published in 1937, and nearly 75 years later, it’s not surprising that some of the illustrations haven’t aged well. And the Enterprise was quick to note, the six removed titles were also among their lowest selling titles.

 

curious george cover / two police walk with a a small monkey between them, against a yellow field.Interestingly, Seuss isn’t the only popular children’s author who has come under closer scrutiny in the last decade or so. Recently, I had a conversation with a fantastic teacher librarian who mentioned that she’d pulled Curious George and Babar from her shelves. Curious George in particular has remained popular through licensing deals, including an animated PBS series that ran for 13 years and animated film. I had fond memories of the mischievous little monkey, and it’s been quite some time since I read the original stories, so I couldn’t imagine why he was problematic until I started researching it further.

 

The problem, according to critics, is the racist overtones of the books, including the generalization of George being from “Africa,” and taken by force from his home in the jungle. Likewise, there are overt colonialism themes in Babar where the text literally describes the black characters in the book “savages and cannibals.” When examined from with our 21st century views, of course we identify these problems, but the first Babar book was published in France in 1931, and the first Curious George book was published in 1941. What these authors and the general public considered appropriate was different than what we understand now. It doesn’t make it right, but understanding the world that these books came from provides context.

 

little house on the prairie cover / two young girls stare out the back of a covered wagon which rolls across the prairie Another popular series that has recently been reexamined are the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder which chronicle her pioneer/settler childhood.  I read most of the series when I was about 8-9 years old and loved it, and I have known several teachers who have selected the book as a novel study to support the pioneer/early settlers component of the Ontario Curriculum. In 2018, the American Library Association decided to drop her name from the annual award given in her name because of her racist portrayals of Native American people in her books. While some disputed the decision, pointing out that the first books in the series were published in 1931 and took place in Wisconsin in 1871, the ALA defended the decision, reminding people that they are not encouraging a ban on Wilder’s books, but simply bringing the award in-line with its values.

 

dr dolittle cover / a man with glasses in a tux and top hat stands in a clearing surrounded by jungle animalsThese are just a few examples, but it turns out that quite a few beloved children’s books (including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tin Tin, Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, Dr. Doolittle, and Indian in the Cupboard) contain racist or offensive stereotypes. It would be easy to chalk it up to another time, another place, but as experts have pointed out, because we continue to read these books today, we have to look at them critically and acknowledge their mistakes. Whether they have lasting merit, or should be pulled from public library or store shelves is a decision that each org has to make for themselves. What is very true is that there are a plwalethora of alternatives that encompass diversity and inclusion and other modern values.

 

In 2014, the Walter Dean Myers Award was created to recognize published, diverse authors who champion marginalized voices. Incidentally, the ceremony for the sixth Walter Awards will be held on March 12th, with Laurie Halse Anderson as the emcee. The social media hashtags #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices both champion diverse books by marginalized voices, and are a great place to start if you’re trying to diversify your collection and find alternatives to some of these classic titles.

 

And of course, LSC is happy to champion diverse collections. While we compile standard lists, like our Indigenous lists each season, we’ve also recently built lists to spotlight BIPOC authors, to celebrate Black History Month, and to highlight Neurodiversity. We’re also happy to build custom lists for libraries by their request. If there is an area, theme, or voice that you want to focus on, let us know and we’ll build selection lists to make ordering easier.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

 

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This summer I’ll have been working in the book industry for 22 years, first as a bookseller and then for library wholesalers. Over that time I’ve seen many short-shelf life titles. These are the books that either get returned to the publisher at first opportunity, or titles that are popular for a brief burst and then fade into oblivion. With the recent deaths of Clive Cussler, Mary Higgins Clark, Joanna Lindsey and M.C. Beaton (all of whom were still publishing before their deaths), I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what gives these or any authors staying power.

 

I first discovered Mary Higgins Clark’s mysteries through my mom, and continued to enjoy her books for many years. Believe it or not, she published her first novel Where Are The Children in 1975, and since then, most or all of her 38 solo suspense novels (not counting those she co-authored with son Alafair Burke and daughter Carol Higgins Clark) have become bestsellers and have perpetually stayed in print.

 

In an age where up to 1 million books are being published annually in the United States alone, shrinking attention spans, and limited shelf space, the fact that an author can still get new titles on the bestseller list is quite a feat. Digging deeper, when I examined a top 100 list of most popular fiction authors, I discovered some pretty interesting facts about authors that I either used to read or currently read who have been around for decades.

 

wedding dress by danielle steel / a bride in a tapered dress against an purple fieldPopular romance author Danielle Steel is the fourth bestselling fiction author of all time, and has sold over 800 million copies of her books since her first the publication of her first novel in 1973. She even set a Guinness World Record in 1989 for spending the most consecutive weeks on a bestseller list- 390 weeks or 7.5 years in total, which rarely happens. To put it in perspective, only about 37% of fiction titles stay on the list more than 4 weeks, and the longest number of weeks of any title currently on the New York Times Bestseller list is 74. These days, she can be counted on to release around 6 books a year, and while they may not be reaching Guinness levels, they are consistently in demand.

 

hideaway by nora roberts / a flower garden on a cliff over looking the ocean

Nora Roberts, who does double duty writing as herself and under the pen name J.D. Robb published her first novel in 1981, and has more than 400 million copies of her books in print. 59 of her books have debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and she’s been dubbed America’s favourite novelist by The New Yorker. She’s been a favourite of mine for several years, and the million copy print runs of her recent releases suggests that the title is accurate.

 

devoted by dean koontz / a tree in silhouetted against a sky on fireSuspense novelist Dean Koontz, whom I also discovered through my mom, has been around since 1968 when he published the sci-fi novel Star Quest, but he really gained notoriety when he started writing suspense/horror fiction. At least 14 of his books have hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. These are just a few examples, but authors such as Sandra Brown, Stephen King, Fern Michaels, and Stuart Woods have also been publishing since the 70s or 80s, and are still consistently popular with readers.

 

So what does give all of these authors their amazing staying power? Mass appeal is one reason. All of these authors managed to find a mass audience for their books, and they retain their audience because they tell good stories and the books are extremely readable. Calling a book addictive is high praise because it means you can’t put it down. If an author is successful in giving you that experience, naturally you’d want to read another of their titles. There’s also comfort in familiarity, and it’s a lot easier to stick with what you know than to break away and try something new.

 

Compelling characters would be another reason. There is something about their characters that draws us in, makes us care about them to the point that we become invested in their lives. We laugh with them, cry for them, wish we could be them, and want to continually read more about them. Pride and Prejudice was published over 200 years ago, and yet Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy still resonate with modern audiences. To Kill a Mockingbird is over 60-years-old, and Atticus Finch is one of the most beloved characters in literature.

 

the return by nicholas sparks / a garden gate door covered in vinesThe third commonality is that they have universal themes that readers relate to. Whether it’s the struggle to reach a personal goal, a struggle with humanity, life and death, good and evil, and the ever-popular love, the most famous novels address some or all of these themes. Nicholas Sparks who is best known for his tragic love story The Notebook has a huge following, and he’s widely considered the standard for modern romance. He writes about ordinary people who find love and often lose love through tragedy. While some people may criticize the author for his saccharinity and sappiness, there is something about these stories that draws readers and keeps them coming back for each new book.

 

Obviously these aren’t the only reasons that keep us sticking with our favourite authors, but it’s a pretty safe bet that the popular authors of today who are still hitting bestseller lists in 10, 20 or 30 years, all of their books will have these things in common.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

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There is something comforting about reading a series. They afford us the opportunity to constantly revisit familiar characters and locations. Through our favourite characters we solve mysteries, travel through time, discover lost relics, etc... without ever leaving our homes, and there are seemingly endless stories to enjoy.

 

The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child / two highways crossing in an x.

Characters such as Jack Reacher, Alex Cross, Stephanie Plum or Stone Barrington continue to be popular with readers, and the authors dutifully come up with new stories to tell about them. So what actually constitutes a series? In broad strokes, it’s any sequence of books with characteristics in common that link them together. Where series become complicated is the different ways that they are organized.

 

A novel sequence set is a series that has themes, characters, or settings in common, but each book has its own title and can stand alone or as part of a series. All of the characters I referred to above are an example of this. Books may make reference to something that happened in a past book, but for the most part, the character changes very little. These can be numbered, or just grouped together like the Harlequin Romances. These make a great casual read because you can pick it up from anywhere and not have missed much. I like to start with the first book because it introduces the character, but it's not necessary.

 

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon / a golden crown on a red field.The other type of series is a chronological series such as Song of Ice and Fire or Outlander where the characters go through changes and the books build on past events. A series like this needs to be read in order, and if you miss one, it can be very difficult to catch up.

 

Aside from these traditional series, there are trilogies (three books), books that are one novel split into multiple volumes such as Lord of the Rings, prequels and sequels.

 

The release of the next book in a beloved series is a big deal, especially in the JUV/YA market where the recent Hunger Games prequel and the forthcoming Twilight novel are big news. And should George R.R. Martin ever get around to finishing the next novel in the Game of Thrones series¸ you can only imagine the celebrations that will happen virtually or in person should that be a possibility by the time the book releases.

 

I have a love hate relationship with series. I love them for a few reasons. When an author creates a character or characters I really like, I love having a chance to revisit them in additional books. While there aren’t a lot of novel sequences that I currently follow in print, I do enjoy dipping back into the world of David Baldacci’s Amos Decker or Jude Deveraux’s Montgomery family when I get a chance. In the case of Deveraux, the stories span multiple time periods and generations, and I love reading about the Montgomery family past and present.

 

Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory / a black woman and a white man hiding behind a menu sitting at a table while fireworks occur behind them I've also really enjoyed the romance novels of Jasmine Guillory who has written several loosley linked books featuring the same characters. Each book tells a different character's story, and only lightly reference events from the other books so they don't have to be read in order. 

 

My love for chronological series is less about the characters and more about the ongoing story. Sometimes there’s just too much story to tell in just one book, and the series format allows the author to tell a more detailed story from beginning to end. On the other hand, novel sequences can continue for as long as the author feels like writing about them which could be 10 books, 50, or 100. One such author has openly admitted his wish to kill off his character and end the series, but don’t worry—he’s not actually going to do it.

 

Chronological series are not without their frustrations, and this is where the hate part comes in. There can be long waits in between books (again, George R.R. Martin we’re looking at you), and unless you have the memory of an elephant, if too much time passes, you run the risk of forgetting what was going on unless you reread the previous books. Finding time to read the entire series can also be difficult, and in the case of both types of series, keeping track of all of the titles in a long-running series requires time and organization. 

 

When I was a kid, my grandmother lived around the corner from a Coles and she would keep a list in her purse of the next title in whatever series I was reading so she could pick it up when it came out. This was a great pre-tech way to keep up, but if she lost the paper, she’d have to wait until we were both at home so I could check my shelves and help her start the list over again.

 

Thanks to book tracking apps such as Goodreads and My Book Pledge, it’s a lot easier to keep track of which series titles I have or haven’t read, but it’s still something I have to check.

 

When it comes to chronological series, my preference is to binge read the whole series once all of the books are released. This is definitely easier to do when there aren’t ten 500 page books, but if I’m enjoying it and want to read the next book, I love being able to pick up the next one and continue without interruption. It’s torturous enough waiting a few months for the next season of an ongoing TV drama after a cliff-hanger ending, let alone waiting a year or two for the next book.

 

If a new series is generating a lot of buzz I might be compelled to pick it up and start it, but I’ve left a lot of series unfinished because I never get back to it after the second or third book. I always intend to, but there are just so many other books to read!

 

Whether you read them slowly and one at a time, or quickly and all at once, series get us excited and keep us engaged with reading, and what more can you ask for from a book?

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

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In recent years, the lines between young adult and adult fiction have grown increasingly blurry, and are growing blurrier still thanks to a number of bestselling adult authors such as Kelley Armstrong, Victoria Schwab, Meg Cabot, James Patterson, and Carl Hiaasen who successfully cross back and forth between categories.

 

In 2019/2020, a number of YA authors released their first adult books, hoping that their existing and maturing audience would follow them into the adult space, or better yet, that they’d find a new audience with adults who are unfamiliar with their YA works. But how much of a gamble is it? Judging by the estimated print runs for these new novels, their publishers believed it was a solid one.  

 

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo / a snake slithering through the titleLeigh Bardugo, a wildly successful YA author delivered her first adult novel Ninth House  to much excitement.  Bardugo is no stranger to success. Her books have collectively sold more than 3 million copies in English, have been translated into 41 languages, and are being made into a Netflix series. Ninth House opeed with a 350,000 copy print run, and a ton of marketing behind it.

 

To put it in perspective, other than high performing established authors such as J.D. Robb who see 750,000 copy print runs for their works, a popular author with this publisher might receive a 100,000-150,000 copy print run, while a debut or midlist author would be substantially less. Bardugo’s novel has received 4 starred reviews from prestigious book review journals such as Booklist, and Kirkus, and Stephen King has blurbed the book calling it the “best fantasy novel” he’s read in years. The title also received tremendous buzz on social media, and has appeared on a number of must-read lists.

 

Also from this past year was Stephen Chbosky’s first book since he published the highly Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky / a figure in the far distance walking into a beam of lightacclaimed young adult novel Perks of Being a Wallflower twenty years ago. Imaginary Friend is a horror novel with a child protagonist, and has been dubbed an homage to Stephen King. The book was chosen as one of 2019 best books by People, EW, LitHub, and more, and had blurbs from Emma Watson, Joe Hill, and John Green to boot.

 

2020 saw two even more highly anticipated adult debuts from Divergent author Veronica Roth, and Throne of Glass author Sarah Maas.

 

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth / vines twisted around the letters of the titleRoth’s novel The Chosen Ones released in April 2020, and of course, her fans were excited. While YA tends to examine what happens when teens take on adult burdens, Roth’s adult novel examines what happens to those teens once they become adults. The novel follows a group of twenty somethings ten years after saving the world in their teens who are pulled into a brand new quest when they discover the defeated Dark One was never really defeated at all, and still exists. 

 

Mass’s novel House of Earth and Blood is the first book in her new “Crescent City” trilogy, and is another superlead title for Raincoast with a 250,000 copy print run. Unlike her previous works, the novel is set in a modern world with technology similar to ours, but with all of the fantasy and romance elements thatreaders love about her other books. Since Maas’s YA novels already tend to feature more adult characters, writing an actual adult book isn’t a huge stretch, and her audience is sure to follow.

 

Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas / a young woman's face framed by a crescent moon, while a crow takes flight in the foregroundSo why are so many of these YA authors crossing over into the adult space? Partly because young adults aren’t the only ones who read them.  An estimated 55% of YA readers are adults, so it’s not a leap to think that they would get excited about an adult book written by one of these authors. YA has also become increasingly dark and sophisticated, and there is a lot more crossover than there used to be.

 

From the author perspective, writing for an adult audience isn’t that different than the YA stories they already tell. Yes, it does allow them a bit more freedom in terms of themes, but they are still telling a story that they want to tell with their own voices. As Maas explained in an interview with PW, writing an adult book wasn’t a conscious choice. It was simply a case of certain characters and ideas popping into her head, and her own realization that the characters were in their twenties and not teenagers.

 

Being one of those adults who still unashamedly enjoys YA novels, all four of these books were definitely in my reading pile last year, and as a trend I look forward to waht comes next!

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, on YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu.

 

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For several years now I’ve been tracking my reading on Goodreads, and as a result, the site offers me reading suggestions based on what its algorithms think I like, and they aren’t alone. Virtually every service that I use from Amazon to Netflix to Spotify uses increasingly sophisticated algorithms to figure out what I like and make purchasing/watching/listening suggestions based on that information.

 

As much as it disturbs me that they know so much about me, at least I have to make the choice to take them up on their suggestion. Amazon doesn’t just automatically send me stuff because they think I like it, and nobody can force me to watch/listen to something if I don’t like it. But what if they could?

 

QualitylandThis is the situation in Qualityland by German author Marc-Uwe Kling. The book is set sometime in the future where the third economic crisis within a decade has just ended, and upon consultation with Big Business Consultants the country (presumably Germany), decides to change their name to Qualityland. In their view, Qualityland just sounds like a prosperous and quality place. In keeping with the country’s new image, they also require the use of superlative adjectives whether they make sense or not. It’s not enough to call Qualityland a wonderful country. It’s the ‘wonderfullest’ country. A product isn’t good or even great. It’s the greatest.

 

As for the citizens, well they needed a total makeover too. Afterall, you can’t just have ordinary people living in Qualityland. The consultants decided that every boy would be given the surname relating to his father’s job, and every girl her mother’s occupation at the time that they are conceived. If your father/mother is a doctor or a lawyer, you’re laughing. Of course, there also ends up being names like Prisoner and Cleaner, but we don’t need to talk about them.

 

For all intents and purposes, Qualityland is a utopia. A universal ranking system determines your ability to find a job and your social standing.  Finding a partner is automated, and if your ideal match changes, the system will break up with them for you. Self-driving cars just know where you want to go, and you don’t need to worry about shopping for yourself anymore because TheShop (essentially Amazon) can do it for you. See something on TV that you like? Simply tell your Qualitypad (iPad) to order it for you, and boom- it will appear at your door in a flash. TheShop’s algorithm knows what you want without you even having to ask, and it’s automatically delivered to your door.

 

Unfortunately, the system doesn’t quite work for everyone. One day, Peter Jobless (you can guess what his father’s occupation was), who works as a machine scrapper in QualityCity receives a product from the shop that he is certain he neither needs nor wants. I won’t tell you what it is, but I’ll give you a hint- it’s pink, shaped like a dolphin, motorized, and definitely not for children.

 

Peter attempts to contact TheShop to return it, but discovers that this is practically impossible because machines don’t make mistakes. The algorithms are never wrong, and if they sent it, he most certainly must have wanted it. This leads Peter to start questioning the accepted norms, and how things work. Why are humans becoming less human while machines are becoming more so? What ensues, is a quest to meet with the head of TheShop to prove that they did in fact make a mistake and get a refund on the product that he very definitely does not want. The quest is set against the backdrop of an election where the choices are crazy right-wing celebrity chef and a hyper-intelligent, socialist robot.

 

Interspersed throughout the novel are news bulletins, guidebook entries, and of course comments from readers which results in the comment function being closed due to “a large number of idiotic comments”. Sound familiar?

 

The notion that machines can be mind-readers isn’t as crazy as it sounds. My entertainment apps already curate recommended lists based on what it assumes my tastes are, and I’m bombarded with suggestions from Amazon for products I might like based on what I’ve purchased in the past. If Amazon started sending me products based on what they think I want, I can’t even imagine what I might end up with. The problem with these algorithms is that in only ever showing me what I already know I like, I’m never exposed to anything new. The same is true of information, and this is the central point of the novel. If you’re only ever exposed to information and people who confirm your beliefs and opinions, it becomes a vicious circle. Our viewpoint becomes narrow and unchallenged, and anyone who doesn’t share those views has to be wrong.

 

The novel is a brilliant satire full of dark humour. Think 1984 but much more comical. The author has been aptly compared to Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, and it offers a sharp commentary on capitalism, our dependence on machines to think for us, and celebrity culture. It also challenges the narrow internet bubbles in which we increasingly exist. It’s a novel that I haven’t stopped thinking about and one of those hidden gems that I would recommend everybody read.  HBO also recently announced that Mike Judge (Office Space, Silicon Valley) will be adapting the book into a limited TV series, which is another good reason to pick it up.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, subscribe to our new YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu.  We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

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I love a good ghost story, and so naturally I was drawn to The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix. As I was watching it, something about the story seemed familiar, and upon Googling it, I learned that it was yet another adaptation of Henry James’ gothic novella The Turn of the Screw. I originally read the book in University and loved it. It was spooky and suspenseful, and it had a big twist I never saw coming. 

 

The Turn of the Screw

If you haven’t watched the series or read the book, the story is set in a country house named Bly Manor, where a young governess is charged with the care of two orphans named Miles and Flora. Something doesn’t seem quite right about the house, however, and she becomes convinced the house is haunted.

 

In the hundred plus years since its original publication, the novel has become a cornerstone of gothic literature, and has been adapted several times into radio and film, including the recent film The Turning, the 2001 film The Others starring Nicole Kidman, and a 1961 film titled The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr. I’m a big fan of horror in general, but especially Gothic fiction for the suspenseful and atmospheric elements of these stories.

 

If you’re not familiar with the genre, Gothic fiction and regular horror have some distinct The Castle of Otranto differences. Gothic fiction is a sub-genre of horror which combines horror, death, and sometimes romance. The term Gothic is generally associated with the Gothic architecture of medieval Europe which is the setting for many of the novels, and originated during the romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

 

Gothic’s origins have been attributed to the English author Horace Walpole and his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. Books by Anne Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelly, and Daphne Du Maurier further developed the genre, and examples of Gothic writing can be found in Russia, US, England, and Ireland, each with their own unique characteristics.

 

In her 1818 novel Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen parodied the genre by introducing a naïve heroine who read far too much Gothic fiction and begins to imagine herself as the heroine of a Gothic novel such as Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. If you haven’t read Udolpho you can still appreciate Austen’s parody, but I suggest reading Radcliffe simply because she was one of the first to incorporate supernatural elements into her novel.

 

Right about now you’re probably wondering what makes a novel Gothic as opposed to straight up horror. The most obvious element is the setting. Almost every Gothic novel is set in an isolated estate, castle or house that is either said to be haunted or cursed. There are almost always secret passages, abandoned rooms/wings, and it is dark, possibly abandoned, and generally creates a sense of fear or foreboding. The weather is also unsettled, and it’s often foggy or raining.

 

A recent novel that is a great example of setting is Laura Purcell’s The House of Whispers which takes place in a sprawling house by the sea in Cornwall, Setting a novel in the UK isn’t a requirement, but the weather and the landscape make it a popular choice. The location of the house is remote and far from the city, and even comes with its own crazy lady in the attic. Cornish folklore plays into the story, and it’s exactly the kind of creepy that will keep you up at night.

 

Another major element is a character, often a woman, in peril. The character faces terrifying events, and often becomes trapped in the house, castle, etc.. In Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel Mexican Gothic, the central character is socialite Noemí Taboada travels to High Place, an isolated house in the Mexican countryside and begins having visions of blood and doom in her dreams. The house contains many secrets, and if Noemi isn’t careful, she may find it impossible to leave.  

 

Also key to the story is something supernatural such as a ghost or a monster. The monster can be literal like Frankenstein’s monster, a vampire like Dracula, or even a mutant or cyborg. Graham Masterson’s House of a Hundred Whispers is a great example of a supernatural Gothic. Masterson’s novel is set in an isolated local in a Tudor mansion nestled in the English moors. The novel begins with the murder of the owner, the former Governor of Dartmoor Prison and just gets spookier from there. The author integrates elements of local folklore and witchcraft, and the story is a highly suspenseful haunted house ghost story.  

 

If you're interested in learning more about the major elements of Gothic horror, check out that link for a more detailed explanation. Meanwhile, if you plan to read any of the novels I’ve suggested, I have one piece of advice: Don’t turn out the lights!

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

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