KRWG

Petra Mayer

Tiny Cooper is your new boyfriend (well, not mine, he doesn't swing that way). Readers met the flamboyant high school football player and would-be musical impresario as a side character in the 2010 novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson and fell in love — about as quickly as Tiny did with each of his 18 exes.

Fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett was prolific: He wrote more than 70 books, dozens of them about the Discworld — a flat planet borne through space by four elephants on the back of a giant turtle. Pratchett died Thursday at age 66. He had been suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Much like Fifty Shades of Grey, After is an epic, erotic fan fiction that's being repackaged by a major publishing house. But where Fifty Shades was inspired by the Twilight books, After is loosely based on real people: The British boy band One Direction. And the first volume of After has just hit stores — but let's rewind a little, to those words, "fan fiction." I know, you're probably making a face right now, but bear with me.

Australian author Garth Nix anticipated the boom in young adult literature almost 20 years ago with Sabriel, a dark and delightful tale of a young woman from a long line of necromancers tasked with making sure the dead stay dead. Sabriel and its sequels Lirael and Abhorsen were set in two neighboring countries divided by a mysterious wall: to the south, unmagical Ancelstierre, roughly analogous to 1920s England — and to the north, the Old Kingdom, saturated by magic and menaced by the roaming Dead.

This is a story about love. It's a story about bad things happening to good people, about memory and perseverance — and comic books. But most of all, it's a story about a voice. A mellow, smooth voice, just right for late-night jazz.

The final book in Lev Grossman's Magicians trilogy comes out this week — The Magician's Land. It's a literary fantasy, inspired by Narnia and Harry Potter, that tells the story of what happens to brilliant young wizards when they grow up and have to deal with the world.

Grossman was promoting the novel at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, and as I discovered, he's a fantastic — and slightly terrifying — person to see Comic-Con with. He has no problem taking unspoken insecurities and dragging them out into the light.

The San Diego Comic-Con is in full swing — celebrating not just comics, but movies, TV, books, video games and really cool costumes. It's called cosplay: the art and science of dressing up like your favorite character.

Where would you go, if you had a time machine? Ancient Egypt? Tang Dynasty China? The Globe Theater, in 1599? Or maybe to the 25th century, because who knows, Buck Rogers might actually be there.

If you've ever enjoyed the ghostly weird-old-America wail of Robert Johnson, the deep blues of Charley Patton or Skip James' guitar wizardry, you can thank the 78 collecting community — those dedicated (okay, obsessive) folks who hunt down the rare old shellac records that hold so much of our musical past.

This '57 Chevy station wagon was once pristine, the epitome of American automotive glory: two-tone green, with sweeping fins and enough chrome to blind pedestrians. But by the time journalist Earl Swift came across it, those days were gone, and it was subsiding gently into a heap of rust and torn upholstery.

Author Ann Brashares became a young adult superstar more than a decade ago with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a feel-good series of books about the adventures of four best friends and a really great pair of jeans. It was eventually made into a couple of movies.

I love Key West, and I go there as often as possible: pina coladas, drag queens, shady hammocks, feral chickens — it's the best. There's just one problem: everyone gets around the island by bike, and I've never learned to ride one. Obviously that had to change.

Why didn't I learn? I really don't remember, and neither did my mom, when I asked her about the one time my parents tried to teach me. "You got on a big bicycle that was so big you couldn't really turn the wheels and got discouraged."

This afternoon, millions of fez-wearing fans around the world will tune in to a very special episode of Doctor Who. The venerable British sci-fi series turns 50 today — though the time traveling alien Doctor himself is probably somewhere on the wrong side of 1,000.

From scrappy, low-budget beginnings (bubble-wrap monsters, anyone?), Doctor Who has become a global phenomenon. Only soap operas can match it for longevity and popularity. So what's the secret to the Doctor's appeal?

Gene Luen Yang broke out in 2006 with American Born Chinese, the first graphic novel nominated for a National Book Award. It weaves three stories — about a Chinese-American boy, a terrible stereotype named Chin-Kee and the mythical Monkey King — into a complex tapestry of identity and assimilation.

The world of Jane Austen — gracious country houses, empire-waist dresses, card parties and suppers and genteel raillery and a touch of social anxiety — is familiar literary ground. And no house is more familar and comforting than Longbourn, home to Elizabeth and Jane Bennet. But what goes on behind the scenes? Who irons those dresses and prepares those suppers?

Young adult literature is big business right now; bookstores and movie theaters are full of titles like The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars.

After a varied career as a computer repairman and yacht captain, Hugh Howey turned his hand to writing. He'd self-published several novels and stories when the sci-fi dystopia WOOL, originally just a novella, found sudden runaway success in 2011. Howey found himself writing sequel after sequel to keep up with reader demand — the latest volume, Dust, was released in August.

Go to your nearest paperback rack, and odds are, you'll see two or three, or four, or — well, a lot of books by Debbie Macomber, an author The Sacramento Bee has dubbed "the reigning queen of women's fiction."

Macomber has 170 million books in print; the newest, Rose Harbor in Bloom, has just been released. Her publisher, Random House, celebrated Macomber's selling power earlier this month with a fan retreat at the Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville, where 400 women gathered for a weekend of tea, knitting and literary friendship.

What if the X-Men were real? And what if they weren't mutants in spandex, but people like you and me and Bob in accounting, just endowed with superhuman talents for things like pattern recognition, programming and strategy?

I'm surrounded here at NPR Books by people with sophisticated, grown-up tastes — happy to dive into the latest Claire Messud or Daniel Alarcon or James Salter. Meanwhile, give me — any day — a book about teenagers (and preferably dragons). A good YA novel is a polished gem of solid storytelling, but more than that, it draws us back in time to the teenagers we once were — or never were, or wanted desperately to be.

Food porn and rip-roaring pirate adventure are two great tastes that taste great together in Eli Brown's rollicking Cinnamon and Gunpowder. Owen Wedgwood is the brilliant but rather prissy chef to shipping magnate Lord Ramsey — until privateer captain "Mad Hannah" Mabbot shoots Ramsey at point-blank range and takes Wedgwood prisoner, charging him to earn his keep by preparing her one magnificent dinner a week, using only the ingredients he can find on her ship, the Flying Rose.

Attributing human characteristics to animals makes for great cartoons, but it's not usually considered rigorous science. Now, a new book argues that animals do think and feel in ways similar to humans.

Barbara J. King is a professor of anthropology and a commentator on NPR's science blog, 13.7. And her book, How Animals Grieve, makes a powerful case for the presence of love, affection and grief in animals — from a house cat mourning her lost sister to elephants who pay respects to the bones of their matriarchs.

Oh no, I thought, cracking open Brian Kimberling's debut novel, Snapper. It's a collection of linked stories. Starring an aimless birdwatcher. Who drives an ancient, glitter-encrusted pickup truck named Gypsy Moth and has a grand passion for an honest-to-God Manic Pixie Dream Girl with red hair, floaty dresses, a flute and a killer pancake recipe. And her name is Lola. Lola! I was braced for a thorough beat-down with the dreaded Whimsy Hammer.

In the 17th century, fugitive slaves founded a free community in the mountains of northeastern Brazil. They called it Palmares. Contemporary accounts describe the courtyards and the fountains, the churches and council meetings of that sprawling settlement, which survived for decades before a concerted military effort by Portuguese colonists wiped it out in 1695.

Alaya Dawn Johnson has written a number of novels for adults (including the delightful Zephyr Hollis series), and now she's venturing onto the young adult shelves with The Summer Prince, a complex science-fiction narrative set in post-apocalyptic Brazil. The action takes place in the city of Palmares Tres, which is entirely contained in a giant pyramidal structure on a bay, surrounded and fed by giant algae vats.

It's the moment fantasy fans have been waiting for (really!): After more than 20 years, and 13 doorstopper volumes, the last book in the best-selling Wheel of Time series comes out Tuesday. The series unfolds an epic battle between good and evil — think Game of Thrones but more so: more characters, more magic, more tiny little world-building details, more everything.

Photographer Edward Curtis started off his career at the tail end of the 19th century, making portraits of Seattle's wealthiest citizens. But a preoccupation with Native Americans and a chance encounter on a mountaintop triggered an idea: Curtis decided to chronicle the experience of the vanishing tribes — all of them. It was an unbelievably ambitious project that would define Curtis, his work and his legacy.

It's been a big year — well, a big few years — for young adult fiction, which I'm not going to complain about in the slightest; nothing beats a good YA novel for pure storytelling punch. But I might complain, just a little, about the overwhelming sameness of some of the plots. Dystopian futures, quiet-yet-spunky teenage girls, doomed love triangles — sound familiar? Suzanne Collins has a lot to answer for. Luckily, you can crack open The Last Dragonslayer and spend time with a protagonist who has a refreshingly different set of priorities.

1. The Healing Power Of Stories

Cambodian author Vaddey Ratner was just a child when the Khmer Rouge came banging on the doors of her aristocratic family's compound in Phnom Penh. She's fictionalized that experience — and the years of hardship that followed — in her new novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan.

She survived — and so does her heroine, Raami — in part because she remembered the poems and stories her father loved.

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