Resolve to Read: Romance Novels By Or About a Person of Color

As we mentioned here previously, we here at the Library are Resolving to Read (more…different….) in 2018, and tackling both Book Riot’s and Scholastic’s 2018 Reading Challenges.  In the hopes of encouraging you to broader your literary horizons along with us, here are some suggestions for books that fall within the categories of the various challenges.

Today’s Challenge: Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge
Category: Romance Novels By Or About a Person of Color

We’ve talked a lot in the past about how we love romance novels here at the Free-For-All, and also about how we’re really ready to see more diversity in the genre at large.   So this week’s challenge is one very near and dear to our hearts.  There have been a number of sensation romances published in the past few years that feature People of Color–but that shouldn’t distract us from the classic romance novels that have stood the test of time and readers’ devotion.  What makes these books so great is that they are not only willing to confront issues of racial identity, but also to question issues of body image, sexual identity, class, and gender norms, making these romances as ground-breaking and thought-provoking as they are heart-racing.

So let’s take a look at some of the terrific titles that you can select to fulfill your resolution–and perhaps even discover a few new authors whose work you can savor for months and years to come!

An Extraordinary UnionNo list of romances featuring People of Color would be in any way complete or comprehensive without Alyssa Cole’s sensational novel of Civil War espionage and passion–and the first of what is sure to be an unmissable series.  Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice and an eidetic memory. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she returns to the indignity of slavery in the South–to spy for the Union Army. Malcolm McCall is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service. Subterfuge is his calling, but he’s facing his deadliest mission yet–risking his life to infiltrate a Rebel enclave in Virginia. Two undercover agents who share a common cause–and an undeniable attraction–Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy’s favor.  This is a book that confronts the horrors of slavery in America, but still holds fast to the belief that love will not only conquer all, but can redeem us, as well.

BreathlessBeverly Jenkins is among the royalty of the romance genre, and all of her books, frankly, are wonderful.  She creates wonderful, vivid, and beautifully empathetic characters, and places them in (generally speaking) historically accurate situations that allow her to reflect on issues of identity, power, and freedom in really creative ways.  In this book, Portia Carmichael is the manager of one of the finest hotels in Arizona Territory.  She has respect and stability—qualities sorely missing from her harsh childhood. She refuses to jeopardize all that by keeping company with the wrong man–but the arrival of an old family friend may have her thinking she’s found someone right.  Kent Randolph has learned his share of hard lessons. After drifting through the West, he’s learned the value of a place to settle down, and in Portia’s arms he’s found that and more. But convincing her to trust him with her heart, not just her passion, will be the greatest challenge he’s known—and one he intends to win…You quite seriously cannot go wrong with Beverly Jenkins work, so make sure to check out her many others books as you make your way through this resolution!

A Bollywood AffairSonali Dev’s romances have it all–interesting characters, real issues, beautiful settings–but they also deal with issues facing women in India, from conforming to stereotypes and ‘proper behavior’ to the difficulty of balancing tradition with progress.  But there is also the deep bonds with family, the sensational food, and the meaningful tradition, all of which combine to make Dev’s books so enchanting.  In this story, Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years–not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. She was even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be–if her husband would just come and claim her. Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naïve village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life–cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.  This book is Dev’s first, but each of the four she has published to date are winners, so keep your eye out for this author!

Such a Pretty Face: The blurb for Gabrielle Goldsby’s lesbian romance may sound like it’s a tale of revenge-bods and vengeance, but, in truth, it really couldn’t be any further away.  It’s a story about learning to love yourself, and to find people who can see the best in you no matter what–and that is a message we all need to hear from time to time.  Mia Sanchez is a Mexican American financial adviser who has recently bought a new house with her partner of four years. She is stunned when her Brenda tells her she has accepted a 5-month job in Fiji, and that she’ll be using the time to  “think about their future together.” Mia hadn’t thought words could be more painful until Brenda followed up hers with, “You’ve really let yourself go over the last few years.”   Hurt and along, Mia finds a little comfort is staring at Ryan, the stunning blonde construction worker at Mia’s work.  Ryan has her own issues with physical beauty, in the form of a scar on her face, but neither the scar nor Mia’s weight seem to be a problem when they finally start talking.  This is a funny, insightful, and wonderfully honest book about the power of real love to see past the superficial, and to transform that holds up even on the second or third reading!

 

We’ll be back next week with another Resolve to Read post, but until then, feel free to stop by the Library and let us help you discover your new favorite book of 2018!

From the Teen Room!

Black History Month Reader’s Advisory: Teen Edition!

  • City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson: After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Anderson writes a thrilling and raw murder mystery!
  • Solo by Kwane Alexander: Not even the songs that flow through Blade’s soul are enough when he’s faced with two unimaginable realities: the threat of losing his girlfriend forever, and the revelation of a long-held family secret.
  • Cy In Chains by David L. Dudley: Cy is sure that a chance at freedom is worth any risk, any sacrifice. This powerful, moving story opens a window on a painful chapter in the history of race relations.
  • X by Ilyasah Shabazz: X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.
  • Loving Vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell: A story of a landmark civil rights case, told in spare and gorgeous verse. In 1955, in Caroline County, Virginia, amidst segregation and prejudice, injustice and cruelty, two teenagers fell in love.
  • The 57 Bus by Dashka Slate: Two teens lives intertwine when a reckless act ends up leaving Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment.
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers – Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. A Harlem drugstore owner was shot and killed in his store, and the word is that Steve served as the lookout.

Five Book Friday!

Well, Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, dear readers, but for those of you still in a mood to celebrate, fear not!  February still offers plenty of other days to celebrate.  Check out some of these terrific options:

February 17: National Random Acts of Kindness 

February 21: National Sticky Bun Day

February 23: National Toast Day (the food, not the action, so bust out those toasters!)

February 26: National Tell a Fairy Tale Day

February 28: National Chocolate Souffle Day

Best of all, there is never not a good day to celebrate Libraries, so come on it, and check out some of the new titles that have wiggled onto our shelves this week!

How to Stop TimeA you a reader who loved the idea of Fitzgerald’s tale “The Secret Life of Benjamin Button,” but wished it had a less gut-wrenching ending?  Then Matt Haig’s newest tale is for you! Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life. So Tom moves back his to London, his old home, to become a high school history teacher–the perfect job for someone who has witnessed the city’s history first hand. Better yet, a captivating French teacher at his school seems fascinated by him. But the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: Never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society’s watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can’t have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present. This is a moving, heart-warming romp love story across the ages that has had critics and reviewers raving.  The reviewer for Publisher’s Weekly noted “I am in concert with Haig’s fans as I read the book, turning pages for the story but also stopping to underline passages. I want to remember the lines. I want to read out loud to someone. Nothing like a love that lasts 400 years.”

Feel Free: Zadie Smith has become a treasured voice in fiction, and her gift for storytelling and insight into human nature makes this collection of essays a joy for her fans, and a delightful introduction to new readers.  Arranged into five sections–In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free–this new collection poses questions we immediately recognize. What is The Social Network–and Facebook itself–really about? Why do we love libraries? (YAY LIBRARY LOVE!!) What will we tell our granddaughters about our collective failure to address global warming? Gathering in one place for the first time previously unpublished work, as well as already classic essays, such as, “Joy,” and, “Find Your Beach,” this stellar collection offers a survey of important recent events in culture and politics, as well as Smith’s own life.  Kirkus gave the book a starred review, observing “If only all such thoughts were so cogent and unfailingly humane. The author is honest, often impassioned, always sober…Smith’s observations are timeless.”

GnomonNick Harkaway is an author who revels in the potential of genre fiction, and always ends up making those genres uniquely his own.  On the surface, this book is a dystopian thriller, but beneath the label, this book is a wonderfully though-provoking commentary on our own time and consciousness, as well.  In the world of the story, citizens are constantly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of ‘transparency.’ Every action is seen, every word is recorded, and the System has access to its citizens’ thoughts and memories–all in the name of providing the safest society in history.  When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody, it marks the first time a citizen has been killed during an interrogation. The System doesn’t make mistakes, but something isn’t right about the circumstances surrounding Hunter’s death. Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector and a true believer in the System, is assigned to find out what went wrong. Immersing herself in neural recordings of the interrogation, what she finds isn’t Hunter but rather a panorama of characters within Hunter’s psyche.  Embedded in the memories of these impossible lives lies a code which Neith must decipher to find out what Hunter is hiding.  The staggering consequences of what she finds will reverberate throughout the world.  This is a complex book that will hold appeal to tech fans as well as philosophers.  The British Newspaper The Spectator reveled in its eccentric genius, saying, “This huge sci-fi detective novel of ideas is so eccentric, so audaciously plotted and so completely labyrinthine and bizarre that I had to put it aside more than once to emit Keanu-like ‘Whoahs’ of appreciation. . . It is huge fun. And it will melt your brain. . . Whoah, indeed. I wanted to give it a round of applause.”

A Dangerous Crossing: Fans of Ausma Zehanat Khan, whose investigative duo, Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak first appeared in the wrenching mystery The Unquiet Dead, will be thrilled to hear they are reappearing in this story that blends Khan’s careful plotting and character insight into another very human and immediate tragedy.  Esa’s childhood friend, Nathan Clare, calls him in distress: his sister, Audrey, has vanished from a Greek island where the siblings run an NGO. Audrey had been working to fast-track refugees to Canada, but now, she is implicated in the double-murder of a French Interpol agent and a young man who had fled the devastation in Syria.  Esa and Rachel arrive in Greece to a shocking scene, witnessing for themselves the massive fallout of the Syrian war in the wretched refugee camps. Tracing Audrey’s last movements, they meet some of the volunteers and refugees―one of whom, Ali, is involved in a search of his own, for a girl whose disappearance may be connected to their investigation.  Working against time, with Interpol at their heels, Esa and Rachel follow a trail that takes them from the beaches of Greece, to the Turkish–Syrian border, and across Europe, reaching even the corridors of power in the Netherlands. Had Audrey been on the edge of a dangerous discovery, hidden at the heart of this darkest of crises―one which ultimately put a target on her own back?  Khan is a writing who knows very well of what she speaks.  As Library Journal pointed out in their review, “Khan’s doctorate and research in international human relations law give credence to her portrayal of a timely situation . . . This is a series well worth investigating.”

A Wedding at Two Love Lane: Fans of Kieran Kramer’s historical romances will find that her delightful writing style and super character development translate beautifully into the contemporary, in this tale of matchmaking and unexpected passion.  Greer Jones has made a real name for herself at the elegant matchmaking agency Two Love Lane. For a lot of reasons―including a past engagement she broke off―practical tech expert Greer is more interested in the business of love than the experience of it, but she can’t help but covet a gorgeous wedding gown that’s the prize in an upcoming cocktail-party contest. In a moment of brazen inspiration, Greer asks a handsome Brit she’s only just met to accompany her to the party. He agrees―and Greer believes her date is a starving artist. Little does she know the truth. . .Ford Smith, as he calls himself, is actually Stanford Elliott Wentworth Smythe, the Eighth Baron of Wickshire. Fresh off a breakup with a money-grubbing siren who deceived him all the way to the altar, Ford has no desire to fall in love―especially with Greer who, like the desired wedding gown, is beautiful but only skin-deep. But soon Ford realizes that there’s more to Greer than meets the eye. Her professionalism is matched only by her passion for life and love. . .and, best of all, she has no idea that he’s to the manor born. Could it be that true love is priceless after all?  Booklist loved this tale, noting that it is  “Brimming with sassy southern charm and an abundance of deliciously dry wit, this debut entry in Kramer’s Two Love Lane series is festive treat.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Unsubscribe – The easiest way to save time (and maybe even some money)

Today, the Free-For-All is delighted to introduce a new contributor, Ryan, who will be sharing his technical expertise, along with some handy tips and tricks to help you live a more stress-free digital life.  In his first post, Ryan is here to help you with the all-important act of Unsubscribing.


This morning, I awoke to find the same 964 emails in my inbox that have been there since last month. That number has continued to grow steadily every single day. As I scroll through these emails, I find some “interesting” subjects:

  •    How To Lose Weight By Drinking Wine!
  •    Get Medical Help For Your Child’s ADHD
  •    Prosthetics…with NO interest
  •    Try Vitamin-Infused Coffee FREE!!!
  •    ADVANCED Guard Dogs – Collies, Shepherds, Bull Dogs

These emails are called spam emails, or more commonly referred to simply as, junk mail. To be sure, I have no interest in any of these things (although losing weight by drinking something so good sounds pretty nice). So why am I receiving these?

I continue to wonder how these intrepid companies got my email in the first place. I’m generally very careful about who I give my email address to. Unfortunately, there are several ways a company can get your email address. Usually, it involves them buying your email address from a company that you thought would be trustworthy. My best guess for how I keep getting these emails is that a certain sports newsletter I signed up for several months ago sold my email address to a few companies. They in turn, sold my email address to yet more companies. The cycle goes on and on. In other words, I have a problem that 51% of email owners have. We receive a part of the 97.4 billion spam emails sent worldwide, each day.

This raises the question – how do I stop the flow of unnecessary emails? Simply put, you hit the unsubscribe button. Unfortunately, the simple answer doesn’t always solve a problem simply. So, here’s the in-depth way on how to unsubscribe from junk emails.

Per a law enacted in 2008, all advertisers must allow email recipients (that’s you) to prevent further emails from being sent to them. So, if a company is law-abiding, they will have something called an “unsubscribe” or “opt-out” link at the very bottom of their email. If you want to stop receiving emails from a certain company, you’d do well to find that link. Here’s what to look for:

 Or maybe something like this:

Now, all you have to do is click unsubscribe and the first step to de-cluttering your inbox is done.  Once you click that link, it will bring you to a new tab that will have one of the following:

  • A box to type your own email address into (to let the company know that your email address is off limits)
  • A list of specific types of emails you can unsubscribe from. For example, if you are unsubscribing from a health newsletter, you can unsubscribe from emails geared toward children but keep receiving email for adults. You will also be given a choice to unsubscribe from all further emails, if you so choose.
  • A simple message stating that you have been unsubscribed.

Now that you have finished these simple pieces, all that’s left to do is wait. Per the same law mentioned earlier, the sender has 10 days to remove you from their mailing lists. That means you may receive some emails for a few days after you unsubscribe.

Unsubscribing from emails can take time, particularly if you have several different companies sending you emails. Yet, if you’re sick and tired of having to delete all the junk mail that collects in your inbox, or maybe just tired of being asked for money every day, it’s worth the effort. To help pass the time as I unsubscribe, I’m going to go enjoy my weight-loss wine and vitamin-infused coffee as I pet my advanced guard dog.

“But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you…”

We’ve made it a bit of a Valentine’s Day tradition here at the Free For All to share with you some literary love letter (or love letters from the literary) as our contribution to your Valentine’s Day celebrations.  This year, we bring you a brief correspondence from the long relationship between novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.

The beautiful relationship between Virginia and Vita began in December 1922, when Vita was invited to a dinner party at Virginia’s house, and continued to grow and develop over the course of nearly twenty years.  It would appear that there was an immediate affinity between the two women that would develop in the coming weeks and years into a force that would change them both for the better.

Vita and Virginia, via Letters of Note: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2013/06/a-squeal-of-pain.html

Despite the class and age differences between the two women (when they met, Vita was 30 and Virginia nearly 40), they had far more in  common that it might at first appear: both women suffered from sheltered upbringings and emotionally distant parents, and both embodied identities that went beyond traditional heterosexuality, though the language was not readily available to help them identify at the time.  Both women were married to men, but both experienced emotional and sexual relationships outside of their marriages.  As Vita’s son wrote years later of the two women and their marriages:

Their marriages were alike in the freedom they allowed each other, in the invincibility of their love, in its intellectual, spiritual and non-physical base, in the eagerness of all four of them to savour life, challenge convention, work hard, play dangerously with the emotions — and in their solicitude for each other.

They were also both devoted writers; it was, perhaps, a test of their friendship that they didn’t see eye-to-eye in terms of literary matters, but still supported each others’ literary endeavors whole-heartedly.  Vita chose to publish her books with Hogarth Press, the publishing company that Virginia and her husband founded, and the revenues from those books allowed Virginia the financial freedom to publish her more experimental works, such as The Waves.

Via Brakinpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/07/28/virginia-woolf-vita-sackville-west/

Vita was also instrumental in helping Virginia come to terms with herself and her past.  As their friendship developed, Virginia confided in Vita that she had been abused by her step-brother as a child, and Vita became instrumental in helping her work to heal those wounds and accept herself.  Moreover, Virginia’s father had diagnosed her as ‘nervous’ as a child, and stated that writing would only result in a breakdown.  Virginia grew up obsessed with physical fitness, believing it was the only key to remaining healthy.  Vita was the first person to encourage her writing and her self-esteem, urging her to see that her writing came from strengths, rather than being a source of weakness.  The results were truly moving.  While they were traveling in Paris, Virginia purchased a mirror, saying she felt she could look in a mirror for the first time in her life.

Years later, Virginia would present Vita with her novel Orlando, a brilliant, satirical, and stunningly beautiful story about the adventures of a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives for centuries, meeting the key figures of English literary history.  The character of Orlando was based on Vita, and embodied not only her queer identity, but also her passion for life, her social skills, and the wicked sense of humor that both women shared.

According to some sources, the two ended their friendship over their views over the political decisions that led to the outbreak of the Second World War–Virginia was a staunch pacifist, while Vita supported German rearmament.  The love between them, however, endured.  After Virginia Woolf’s death by suicide in 1941, Vita’s friendship remained constant.  She wrote heartfelt condolence letters to Virginia’s husband and sister, commemorating Virginia’s individuality and spirit in a way that only someone who loved her profoundly could do:

The loveliest mind and spirit I ever knew, immortal both to the world and us who loved her. … This is not a hard letter to write as you will know something of what I feel and words are unnecessary. For you I feel a really overwhelming sorrow, and for myself a loss which can never diminish.

Here, we present a letter from Vita to Virginia, along with Virginia’s response, written while Vita was traveling in Italy.  This set of letters is beautiful, not only because it conveys their depth of their feelings for each other (and the pain that being separated caused them)–there are also some wonderful observations on the power of true love to cut through our façades and to see through our masks.  Their plain, honest admission of missing each other is in itself moving, but it’s also fascinating to see both women admit to not being able to pretend around each other.   That kind of inherent honesty is pretty rare in relationships, and it’s that beautiful honest that we celebrate today.

 

Those looking for more information on the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West should check out the recently-released book of their correspondence, as well as: Bloomsbury Women: Distinct Figures in Life and Art, and A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, & Virginia Woolf.  For more biographical and primary source references, check out:Vita and Harold: The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Harold NicholsonThe Letters of Virginia Woolf, and Virginia Woolf: A Portrait.


From Sackville-West to Woolf

Milan [posted in Trieste]
Thursday, January 21, 1926

I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is just really a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this—But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it …

Please forgive me for writing such a miserable letter.

V.

*

From Woolf to Sackville-West

52 Tavistock Square
Tuesday, January 26

Your letter from Trieste came this morning—But why do you think I don’t feel, or that I make phrases? ‘Lovely phrases’ you say which rob things of reality. Just the opposite. Always, always, always I try to say what I feel. Will you then believe that after you went last Tuesday—exactly a week ago—out I went into the slums of Bloomsbury, to find a barrel organ. But it did not make me cheerful … And ever since, nothing important has happened—Somehow its dull and damp. I have been dull; I have missed you. I do miss you. I shall miss you. And if you don’t believe it, you’re a longeared owl and ass. Lovely phrases? …

But of course (to return to your letter) I always knew about your standoffishness. Only I said to myself, I insist upon kindness. With this aim in view, I came to Long Barn. Open the top button of your jersey and you will see, nestling inside, a lively squirrel with the most inquisitive habits, but a dear creature all the same—


Note: Long Barn was the name of the country home that Vita Sackville-West and her husband owned in Kent.

Westworld: An If/Then Reading List

For those of you still having feelings about Superbowl LII…we see you, and we support you.  For those of you good readers who watched the Superbowl for the commercials, it was a pretty decent showing, all in all.  Particularly those Tide ads, that played heavily on genres, tropes, and gimmicks within familiar commercials.

But for fans of the series, there was no ad quite like the trailer for the upcoming season of Westworld, which debuts on April 22.  You can catch that trailer below if you missed it:

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, Westworld is a science-fiction western thriller airing on HBO.  The television show was inspired by a 1973 film of the same name that was written and directed by Michael Crichton, and stars Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin.  The story takes place in the fictional Westworld, a technologically advanced Wild West-themed amusement park populated by android (robotic) hosts. Westworld caters to high-paying guests, who come to experience life in the frontier town of Sweetwater, and interact with the robotic “hosts”, whose advanced programming allows them to follow a pre-defined set of intertwining narratives, and to deviate from these narratives as visitors interact with them. The hosts repeat these narratives anew each day, having their memories wiped of the previous day, until they are re-purposed or put away in storage. For the visitors’ safety, hosts are unable to harm any other living life forms, allowing visitors nearly unlimited freedom to engage in whatever activities they want without retribution. A staff oversees the park, develops new narratives, and performs repairs on hosts as necessary.  The series begins when a routine update in the hosts’ programming causes unusual deviations in their behavior that allows some of the hosts to understand the truth about themselves and their world…

Though there was some behind-the-scenes drama that postponed the premier of the show from 2015 to 2016, the finished product has been, according to nearly everyone, sensational.  The debut of the series garnered one the HBO’s highest viewership ratings and remains one of the most-watched series on HBO (which, given some HBO series’ devoted followings, is saying quite a lot).  And there are plenty of reasons why it’s continued to be such a talked-about and intriguing show.  First off, the sets, costumes, and scenic details are sensational (hats off to costume director Ane Crabtree, whose historic research paid dividends).  But beneath the stunning veneers, the story of the show itself is a deeply unsettling, curiously arresting consideration of what it means to be human, and what lengths humans are actually capable of going in order to feed their appetites, and what consciousness really means.  As The USA Today wrote, “The reward, beyond the visual splendors you’ve come to expect from big-budget HBO productions, is a set of characters who grow ever more complex.”  Mary McNamara of Los Angeles Times wrote that Westworld “…isn’t just great television, it’s vivid, thought-provoking television that entertains even as it examines the darker side of entertainment.”

So, for those of you looking for a new binge-watching treat, Westworld might very well be the series for which your searching, especially as one series isn’t, comparatively speaking, a huge amount to watch before the Season Two premier on April 22.  But for those of you who are already long-time visitors to Westworld, fear not!  We have a wealth of suggestions to keep your imagination spinning and your gears gyrating until the next episode airs!  Check out some of our top picks below:

Silver on the Road: Readers who are taken with scenes of the ‘Wild West’ in Westworld, and intrigued by the idea of women finding their identity while traversing it, look no further than Laura Anne Gilman’s sensational Devil’s West series.  The series is set in a fantasy west, ruled by The Boss…some might call him the Devil…and full of spirits, stories, and other things too terrible to name.  On her sixteenth birthday, Isobel decides that her true calling is in working for The Boss.  In turn, she is made his Left Hand–but what that title truly means is a mystery.  Rather than explain, The Boss places Isobel in the company of a man named Gabriel, and sent to explore the territory that is now hers.  The story that unfolds is a gently-paced, deeply emotional, and utterly vivid one, that will have you trying to brush the dust from your coattails after every scene.  Isobel’s comradeship with Gabriel is fascinating, unexpected, and stunningly equitable, the lessons she learns about herself and her role along the road are unforgettable, and the best part is that this is just the first book of an outstanding series.  So anyone looking for a Wild West that is just as weird as Westworld, but with a lot more occult and feminism thrown in, look no farther that this book.

Karen MemoryElizabeth Bear takes inspiration from the very real Seattle Underground to create a story about airships, gold miners…and, most importantly, Karen, and her fellow “soiled doves” working at  Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello.  When a badly injured young woman arrives on their doorstep, pursued by the man who holds her indenture, Karen realizes that trouble has fixed its eye on Madame Damnable’s.  But when a body is soon left on their rubbish heap, all hell seems near to breaking loose around them.  While the steampunk genre deals less with robots than automatons (the distinction can be found in the power keeping the machines working and, often, the level of autonomy and consciousness afforded to them), there is a lot of the same high-tech, Wild West skull-duggery going on in this sensational story as in Westworld.  Best of all, once again, we get a feminist perspective on violence, history, and tech, that is heartily welcome.

Utopia: Lincoln Child has terrific fun with the tech-thriller genre, and this book, set in a futuristic theme park, deals with many of the same themes as Westworld, including huge conspiracies, techno-wizards and techno-pocalyspes, and elaborate sabotage schemes going on behind the idyllic scene.  Utopia is a technologically advanced, family-friendly theme park off the Las Vegas strip.  Not only do people flock there for a day of fun, they come to see the system known as the Metanet, a highly secretive and enormously ingenious robotics system designed by Dr. Andrew Warne–a system that essentially runs the park on its own.  But when Andrew is brought in to consult on the possible expansion of the park, he soon uncovers evidence of tampering with the system–from the inside.  His worst fears are realized when one of the rides is sabotaged–and park officials are unable to turn off the rest of the park due to threats of further violence.  Full of fancy techno-details that will appeal to those who love programming potential in Westworld, and told in a thrill-a-minute, breakneck pace, this story is sure to feed your need for danger until Westworld surges back onto the screen.

FantasticLand: This one is a bit of an outlier, but for those of you drawn to the premise of an amusement park from hell, look no further than Mick Bockoven’s vivid, violent novel about an abandoned theme park–and the people who were abandoned inside it.  When the (fictional) Hurricane Sadie threatened Florida with inevitable destruction, the decision was made to evacuate visitors from FantasticLand, but to leave park staff behind with some supplies in order to hold down the fort, so to speak.  But when help finally arrives five week later, they find gruesome and visceral evidence (literally) that something went terribly wrong at FantasticLand.  This book is presented as a dossier of testimony from survivors about what precisely happened during those weeks, when the staff broke into tribes–complete with names and mottoes–and began hunting each other.  There are a number of echoes of Lord of the Flies in this book, and though there is a lot of Milennial-bashing in Bockoven’s work, this is just the thing for a reader whose looking for another dystopian theme park full of menace to tide them over until Westworld‘s gates re-open.

From the Teen Room!

Join our Teen Room staff as they explore the perfect picks for readers who love Valentine’s Day….and for those who don’t!

Pro-Valentine’s Day – Do you love Love? Melt over all things cute and fluffy? Well grab one of these great reads and get ready to gush!

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – First loves and firsts of pretty much everything for Maddie who has been coaxed out of her bubble by the boy next door!

 

Anna And The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins – Your quintessential overseas teen romance with a foreign boy in the romantic city of Paris.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – A sweet story about how two eccentric teens fall in love over the course of the year.

Simon Vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon is looking for the perfect boy while also trying to discover who he is inside.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green – Probably his only book that won’t make you cry and it’s super duper cute!


Anti-Valentine’s Day – Don’t have a date? Recently ended a relationship? Pick a book, buy some ice cream, and do that self-love thing for yourself!

They Both Die At The End by Adam Riveras – I mean … you can guess what happens at the end. The lead up is a great LGBT romance between two Latino boys who really just need a friend for their last day on earth.

Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare – Spoiler alert, it doesn’t end well.

Looking For Alaska by John Green – In his first heart wrenching novel you’ll find that the guy does not, in fact, get the girl and the manic pixie dream girl trope gets squashed into the dust.

The Breakup Bible by Melissa Kantor – For the recently single Valentine’s Day woes this book is a great and hilarious “how-to” to get over that ex!

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Heathcliff: The benchmark for all revenge-obsessed lovers in literature

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass