Q&A w/ Allison Amend: Inside Enchanted Islands

In Enchanted Islands, we have the immense pleasure of meeting Frances Conway, a smart, independent and endearing woman. Frances tells her story from many stages of life – like when she was a child to when she was a teenager on the run with her best friend, Rosalie. All of that leads up to the most fascinating time of her life, when she is in her 50s and moves to the Galápagos Islands for a very unique reason. It’s so interesting to read about her life on the islands and how she survived with very little. Throughout the story, it begins to feel like Frances is your best friend telling you the story of her life. It’s charming and funny at times, while still resonating the seriousness of the situation – a world on the brink of World War II. I highly recommend this book for fellow lovers of historical fiction.

Can’t wait to read Enchanted Islands? Pick up a copy at your local HPB. Plus, enter to win our Chatterbox giveaway featuring Enchanted Islands, sweet summer swag and a $25 HPB Gift Card over on Twitter.

Allison Amend, author of Enchanted Islands, shared her thoughts and experiences while writing her new novel.

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What brought you to Frances Conway’s voice, and how did you discover her?
I was doing some reading on the Galápagos Islands with the idea of possibly setting a book there (mostly because I wanted to visit the islands), and I came across Frances’ memoirs in a list of first-person historical accounts. They’re out of print; I had to order them off the Internet. I immediately fell in love with Fanny’s voice. She’s funny and self-deprecating, witty and an excellent writer. But she also left a lot out of her memoirs, such as any convincing explanation of why she came to the islands, or what her life was like before this journey, which had me wondering what she was hiding. Of course the gaps that history leaves is fertile ground for fiction. From there, my imagination took over, and her voice was imprinted on my mind so that she simply continued speaking on the page. Continue reading

10 Interesting Facts to Celebrate Charlotte Brontë’s 200th Birthday

Jane Eyre is, hands down, my favorite of all the Brontë sisters’ works, and as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth on April 21, I thought I would share some interesting facts about Charlotte and her first book, Jane Eyre. I may mention her other works as well.

10 Interesting Facts about Charlotte Brontë

1. Charlotte and her sisters were enrolled in a strict boarding school called the Clergy Daughter’s School. During their time at the school, a outbreak killed several students. Though Charlotte and her sister were removed from the school, two of her sister, Maria and Elizabeth, died of tuberculosis shortly afterwards. Charlotte blamed the school for their death, and her sister Maria is said to be the inspiration for Helen Burns, Jane’s friend who dies at school in Jane Eyre.

2. The mistreatment she and her sisters received at their own school was inspiration for much of Charlotte’s first novel. In fact, the character of the hypocritical director of Lowood was based on the director of her own school, Reverend W. Carus Wilson. She must have created a good likeness, as Wilson not only recognized himself in the character, but threatened to sue, forcing her to write an apology letter. Continue reading

Happy Birthday Beverly Cleary: Celebrating Drop Everything and Read Day

Beverly Cleary turns 99-years-old on Sunday! The beloved author of books like Henry Huggins, The Mouse and the Motorcyle and the Ramona series, was born on April 12, 1916. We would like to celebrate her birthday by telling you a few things you may not know about this author.

  • Yamhill, OR, the town where Mrs. Cleary was raised, did not have a library. So her mother made an arrangement with the State Library to have books sent to her and then created a reading area in a small room above the Yamhill Bank.
  • After moving to Portland in the first grade, Beverly came down with the chicken pox and was out of school for a while. Being behind in her schoolwork when she returned she was placed in the lowest reading circle and quickly became bored with her required reading selection.  Since Mrs. Cleary began writing, she has always kept in mind children who are struggling with reading.
  • Though Mrs. Cleary’s parents had another gentleman in mind for her, Beverly eloped with Clarence Cleary, whom she had met in college.
  • Though Mrs. Cleary was determined to write “the kind of books [she] wanted to read,” she followed her mother’s advice and got a steady job as a librarian.
  • When her husband asked her why she didn’t write a book, Mrs. Cleary said, “Because we never have any sharp pencils,” so the next day Mr. Cleary brought her a pencil sharpener.
  •  Mrs. Cleary’s mother also advised her to write simply and make her books humorous, because “everyone likes to laugh.”
  • Mrs. Cleary’s first book Henry Huggins was published in 1950.

  • Mrs. Cleary’s best-loved character, Ramona, appeared as a minor character in Henry Huggins
  • Mrs. Cleary had a neighbor named Ramona, and one day, as Mrs. Cleary was writing the character of an annoying little sister, she heard someone call out “Ramona!” so that became the name of her character.
  • Mrs. Cleary would bake bread while she wrote.
  • You can see statues of Ramona Quimby and other Cleary characters in Portland’s Grant Park.  Many scenes from several of Cleary’s books take place in Grant Park.
  • Mrs. Cleary is a cat lover and owned one cat who tired of competing with the typewriter for Cleary’s attention, would sit on the keys
  • In 2000, Mrs. Cleary was named a living legend by the Library of Congress.
  • Mrs. Cleary’s last book Two Times the Fun was published in 2005.  It is an omnibus, containing stories like The Growing-Up Feet, Two Dog Biscuits and Janet’s Thingamajigs.
  • In Mrs. Cleary’s  book Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Ramona’s class celebrates Drop  Everything And Read (D.E.A.R.) Day, a day set aside to encourage everyone to take time in their day to read.  As a result, D.E.A.R. Day is now celebrated every April 12 to coincide with Mrs. Cleary’s birthday. What a wonderful way to celebrate someone’s birthday!

So, don’t forget to stop by your local Half Price Books on Sunday, April 12, and take time to read something fun. Perhaps even revisit your childhood by picking up a copy of your favorite Beverly Cleary book.

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Cleary!

Julie is Traffic Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.

Meeting some of my favorite authors at American Booksellers Association Winter Institute conference!

Every year the American Booksellers Association puts on a conference in February called Winter Institute. This year, it was my complete pleasure to be able to attend. Many different things happen at these conference, like seminars and advanced learning sessions, but one of my favorite parts was meeting authors! The second night we were there, Scholastic put on a reception for some of its authors, including Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of my favorite book of this year and in my top 10 list of favorite books of all time, Echo. I was able to give her a giant hug and thank her for signing over a thousand bookplates for Echo which will be for sale in our stores – get yours at your local Half Price Books today before they run out! Seriously, Echo is one of the best books I have ever read. And I read a lot of books!


Photo Source: Publisher’s Weekly

John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, made a surprise appearance at the reception. I had met John at a previous event for The Fault in Our Stars movie in Dallas, but it was a crazy night and I never thought he would remember me. To my complete and utter surprise, he did! He even went so far as to recall the night we met in great detail! We reminisced for a few minutes and then he had to be on his way.

A little while later, I was back at the hotel bar, and I heard someone say, “Kristen, I’d like to introduce you to Erik.” I turned around and to my second great surprise of the night, it was Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts, and the upcoming Dead Wake. We sat for a while in the bar and talked about his books and some of his most memorable signing tours.

It was definitely a remarkable night for me – one that I’ll never forget!

Yeah, I have the best job in the world.

Read more about the highlights from Winter Institute 10 in the Publisher’s Weekly article.

Kristen B. is Assistant Buyer at Half Price Books Distribution Center.
You can follow her on Twitter at @kbev302.

Books Authors Read with Christina Lauren

We continue our “Books Authors Read” series with Christina Lauren, the combined pen name of long-time writing partners Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. Christina Lauren will stop by our Dallas Flagship store on Sunday, May 11 at noon as part of the Belles on Wheels bus tour. To tide you over until then, here are some of their favorite reads! – Emily

We’re lucky enough that we get to play in multiple sandboxes: erotic romance, contemporary romance, young adult fiction and even free-form stories on Wattpad. As readers, too, we’ve always gravitated toward romance of any form, whether it’s for teens or adults, and our bookshelves definitely reflect that. Our list of favorites seems to grow longer every year. Here are but a few!

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

When this story opened, we worried that it would be heartbreaking (it can be) or difficult (it is, a little), but the voice is so strong and so gorgeous, that it immediately eclipses the early heartbreak. What grows over the pages, really, is a story so wonderfully sweet and uplifting, with prose that is both real and completely absorbing, that it’s one of the few books we both reread at least once a year. By far, our favorite book of all time.

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

In contrast to The Sky Is Everywhere, Forbidden is hands-down the hardest book we’ve ever read. It grabs your heart and squeeze, squeeze, squeezes until the very last page when you want to lie down and cry for a week. But it is so good, and the writing is so wonderful, and the story is so different than anything else out there that it’s the best kind of pain, the most delicious kind of book to read where it makes you feel things no other book makes you feel, and you never want to go back and un-read it.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K Massie

Oh, if you love biographies, this book is for you. Massie makes Catherine real, and accessible and damn—girl gets hers. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and in this case, nonfiction trumps so much fiction out there. Most of us know about her awful marriage to Peter, but what we loved here is the story of how she learned to live by her rules, how intelligent she was (far more intelligent and savvy than anyone around her, frankly) in a time when most women weren’t allowed to read, to write, to take power in the form of knowledge. We’re toying with the idea of writing a historical romance with a modern edge based on her life.

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

Lamb is Lauren’s favorite author by about a mile, and this is a book she’s reread at least a dozen times since college. Dolores Price narrates her story—with humor, heart, and a sometimes shocking level of obliviousness—starting from when she’s a little girl until she’s a grown woman. Her childhood is rife with accumulated small and big traumas. She’s overweight, lonely, abused and eventually broken. But this story is about her rebirth, really, and it’s one of the few books that gives the reader every heart wrenching piece of it: of her setbacks and victories, of her bad decisions and the increasing number of moments that Delores takes charge of her life and sees her own worth. It’s a female voice, in first person, masterfully delivered by a man. Simply adore this book.

Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall is a mile a minute roller coaster. Make sure you’re settled in with snacks and hydration, because once you pick this one up, you won’t be able to put it down. It’s been six weeks since the apocalypse and the angels have descended from the sky. The catch? They aren’t the good guys. It opens on a dark, deserted street and a single feather floating down to the ground, and never stops. Literally. Penryn is a smart, capable heroine and Raffe will tear your heart out. We were lucky enough to discover this gem when author Susan Ee was still self-publishing, so it’s awesome to see it and it’s sequel, Worlds After in bookstores today.

The Curse Worker Series by Holly Black

What we love most about this series—and there is plenty to love—is how seamlessly Black has built a completely different reality in the very world we live in. She’s slipped in Curse Workers into our history, and our political system, and makes the reader believe this might actually be true. Her characters are tough and edgy, but you can’t help but want to take them home and make them dinner anyway, if only to give them a little break from the constant tight corners in which they find themselves.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Talk about badass. Andi is about as badass as you can get. She’s independent, salty, broken—but stronger than she thinks. She’s failing out of school and the only thing that matters to her is her music, her mother, and her dead brother. And that’s just the first chapter! Initially this sounded like something we weren’t sure could be done. Time shifts in books are often clunky, disorienting or so overdone you feel like you’ve been clobbered when you finish the book. Also, history as a rule scares one of us (Lauren): as a scientist, she works by rules and structure, and history is so easily remade with each iteration. But, in the end, that’s the point of this one. The story is so complex, but it never lets go of the reader’s hand. It is triumphant and heartbreaking—a truly fascinating read.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This is a newer read for us—one we both devoured over the holidays—and a totally delightful one. It has unique voice coming out of its ears:  a different sort of narrator that we found irresistible. Of course there are a few savant-like stereotypes in there, but it’s nearly impossible to not completely fall in love with Don.

Romance author duo, Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, are New York Times bestselling authors of Beautiful Bastard and Beautiful Stranger.

You can visit them online or follow them on twitter at @seeCwrite and @lolashoes

Books Authors Read with Ruthie Baron

We continue our “Books Authors Read” series with author Ruthie Baron, who wrote Defriended, an awesome horror mystery that has zipped its way around the Half Price Books corporate office at lightning speed. Ruthie herself is super funny, smart, and fun — and a huge Veronica Mars fan. We like her very much. Thanks for putting together this list for us, Ruthie! — Kristen D. 

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Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block

I’m cheating with this because it’s actually a collection of five books that tell the story of Weetzie Bat, the slinkster-coolest girl in all of LA, and her dreamy, badass clan of friends, lovers, friends’ lovers, daughters, daughters’ lovers, daughters’ band mates, etc. My freshman year of high school, I gave Dangerous Angels to a senior I really wanted to be friends with (she started giving me rides home from school so the plan worked!), and I’ve probably given away 20 copies since then—anyone who likes passion, wonder, or awesome clothes will like these books. 

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

One of my favorite genres of fiction is “protagonist I want to be like whose situation I don’t want to be in.” It’s not that Esch, the 15-year-old newly pregnant narrator of Salvage the Bones, is some sort of saint, but she’s fiercely loyal, deeply loving, and crazy smart, so watching her and her rural Mississippi family prepare for an approaching gulf storm is wrenching… and gripping and beautiful and tender and makes for one of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years. 

September Girls be Bennett Madison

I have not been able to stop thinking about this book since I devoured it last month—it’s a coming-of-age story that calls shenanigans on the “today you are a man,” bar mitzvah-y idea of coming of age, because of course change is not a singular event and being a man (or a woman or a teenager or a sex siren sea creature) is not a singular thing.  The writing is sharp and gorgeous and haunting and–best of all–hilarious and an absolute pleasure to lose yourself in.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Sargent lives with a coven of psychic women in a town that houses a posh boarding school, the hot rich guys who go to said boarding school, and at least one big magical mystery.  If you’re not sold yet, let me assure you that it is even more than the sum of its spooky, weird, very funny parts.

Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry

I love a spy novel (I’m seriously considering getting this tattooed on my person), and this one is as thrilling and absorbing as they come.  McCarry was a CIA agent during the 50s and 60s, so his writing about the Vietnam War and his JFK assassination theory are especially believable, but the geopolitical history lesson is just the icing on the good old fashioned intrigue cake.

Ruthie Baron is the author of Defriended

You may follow her on Twitter at @ruthiebaron

Books Authors Read with John Corey Whaley

We continue our “Books Authors Read” series with Printz and Morris award-winning author John Corey Whaley, who wrote Where Things Come Back, one of the best books I read last year (you should read it too. It’s wonderful and excellent and you will thank me for recommending it). JCW himself is also wonderful and excellent, especially for putting together this list for us. Thanks, Corey! — Kristen D. 

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1.) WINGER by Andrew Smith

Holy moly this book is awesome.  Rugby, comic book drawings, hilarious characters, and a surprisingly emotional turn.  I couldn’t stop reading it.  In fact, I may go start it back up right now. It’s THAT good. 

2.) DR. BIRD’S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS by Evan Roskos

A funny, smart book about a kid with a lot of problems–namely an anxiety disorder.  He talks to an imaginary pigeon, who serves as his therapist.  I mean, come on.  It’s gold. 

3.) THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker

This quiet, apocalyptic coming-of-age novel still haunts me months and months after reading it.  A beautiful, lyrical story. 

4.) ASK THE PASSENGERS by A.S. KING

A beautiful, funny, and intensely moving look at teenage love and sexuality and, well, how ridiculous words like “sexuality” are anyway. The magical realism in this one will give you goosebumps. 

5.) RAPTURE PRACTICE by Aaron Hartzler

This is a young adult memoir about the author’s experience growing up in conservative Christian household in Kansas City.  It’s funny, smart, and heartwarming.  The best part is that that Hartzler never treats his subjects–his own family-with anything but respect and curiosity. 

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John Corey Whaley is the Printz and Morris award-winning author of Where Things Come Back

You may follow him on Twitter at @corey_whaley.

Books Authors Read with Marie Lu

Editor’s Note: We are so excited to have Marie Lu at our Flagship Store in Dallas next week! She’ll be joining us Wednesday, April 24 from 7-9 p.m. for a book signing and Q & A; swing by if you can make it. We asked Marie to come up with a list of books she loves — thanks, Marie! We love these books too. — Kristen D. 

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Asking me to make a list of what books I recommend is dangerous. It’s a little like asking me to make a list of all the movies I recommend, or all the foods I love to eat (okay this one would be REALLY dangerous). I picture myself in a room, happily blabbering away to a poor skeleton covered with cobwebs, “And then there’s ALSO this OTHER book…oh and then there’s THIS ONE TOO…” But behold, I’m making a list here! And I’m going to keep the list down to 10 titles! 

1. Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline): This contains so many of my favorite things–action-packed fun, video games, 80s nostalgia, all things geek, and sci-fi. A must read!

2. Code Name Verity (by Elizabeth Wein): Very few books can make me legitimately cry. This is one of them. A heartwrenching tale of friendship’s deep roots.

3. Shadow and Bone, Book 1 of the Grisha Trilogy (by Leigh Bardugo): One of my favorite fantasy series at the moment. The Russia-inspired setting is refreshingly unique, and the heroine Alina is strong and great fun to follow–as are the sexy boys she attracts!

4. The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Book 1 of a trilogy (by Rae Carson): Another favorite fantasy series! I absolutely devoured this first book, as well as the next two. Fantastic worldbuilding, fantastic characters. (The final one comes out this summer, so now is a perfect time to get started!)

5. Proxy (by Alex London): Proxy doesn’t come out until this summer, but I had the fortune of reading this early. What a dynamite sci-fi story! It’s a futuristic take on the whipping boy concept, and I absolutely loved all the main characters. You don’t want to miss this.

6. The Night Circus (by Erin Morgenstern): An adult novel that took my breath away with its beautiful, magical circus setting. Truly one of the most unique stories I’ve read in a while.

7. The House of the Scorpion (by Nancy Farmer): This dystopian world chilled me to the bone. Just wow. There’s a reason why it has won every award under the sun. Fantastic.

8. The Thief, Book 1 of The Queen’s Thief series (by Megan Whalen Turner): Can you tell I love fantasy? This story is so brilliant, and by the end I was totally in love with Gen. He’s so awesome.

9. If I Stay (by Gayle Forman): By recommending If I Stay, I am also simultaneously recommending its companion novel, Where She Went. Two beautiful, lyrical, and heartbreaking books about family, love, and loss. You can’t go wrong with Gayle Forman.

10. Unwind (by Neal Shusterman): One of my favorite dystopian tales, and set in another chilling world that echoes issues in our own reality. This kept me on the edge of my seat.

My list could go on and on, of course. I hope you get a chance to pick these books up if you haven’t already! I promise that they will all keep you up into the wee hours of the morning. — Marie 

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Marie Lu is the New York Times Bestselling author of Legend and Prodigy

You may follow her on Twitter at @Marie_Lu.