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Book Recommendation: Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares + GIVEAWAY!

28 Nov

DASH AND LILY’S BOOK OF DARES by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
Published October 26th, 2010 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
272 Pages

With Christmas just around the corner, this seemed like an appropriate choice for a book recommendation. I read it about two weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. In fact, I’ve already convinced three of my friends to read it, and lent it to a fourth.

There’s something magical about Christmas, and I think this book hits it right on the head. Christmas is full of endless possibilities. People are nicer, the world is brighter, and smiles are out in droves. Everything is over-the-top, from decorations to the amount of food we eat and the music we listen to. But nobody cares because it’s the holidays. Personally, Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year. How can you not be in a good mood?!

That warm, fuzzy feeling you get around the holidays is something you get while reading this book. And I don’t think it matters what time of year you read it — the feeling will still be there.

But! More about the book and less about my love for Christmas.

First of all, I think the plot is one of the most creative plots I’ve seen in a while. Sticking a red moleskine on a shelf in the Strand with clues that could maybe lead to romance is an amazing idea. The fact that Lily’s brother did it to keep her out of his hair is even better. (Also, I will freely admit to having gone to the Strand since reading this and checking to see if someone had dared to replicate the moleskine idea.) Everything was woven together so well, and those clues! Part of me wonders if I would’ve been able to decipher them, had it been me. The creativity that went into this is mind-blowing.

Also, collaborations can be tricky. I’ve seen plenty of submissions where the two authors’ styles just didn’t mesh. It was obvious who was writing for which character, and the flow was awkward because of it. David Levithan and Rachel Cohn’s voices blend seamlessly together. Even with each of them writing a different character, you’re never once pulled from the story because things don’t work well together. The pair also wrote NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST and NAOMI AND ELY’S NO LIST KISS, neither of which I’ve read, but both of which I intend to pick up.

Dash and Lily were fantastic characters. Dash is a little pretentious, but is still one of the most likable guys I’ve come across in fiction. Boomer is hilarious, and I can’t imagine the book without him. Lily’s cooky family made me wish they were a part of my own, and as a main character, I thought Lily was great. She’s so naive, and it’s fun to watch her get out and test the waters when her parents are gone. I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to go to some skeezy underground club on Christmas eve (By myself. In New York.), so she gets major props for that.

Now that I live in New York, the book had an extra ounce of charm because I knew where things were located. The Strand was one of the very first places I visited when I moved here, and I still pay homage at least once a month. Even if I don’t buy anything, it’s nice to be surrounded by that many books. (Supposedly there are 18 miles of books in that store. I want to know what kind of math they used to figure that out…) I’ve also made an effort to locate the rest of the places mentioned in the book. When a book motivates you that much, I feel like it has to be good.

So, if you’re in need of some extra holiday cheer (or just enjoy overdosing on Christmas), you need to get a copy of this book. I promise you’ll be smiling like an idiot by the time you’re done, and it’ll take a while before it wears off.

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Continuing the tradition of building up suspense for our Super Awesome Super Exciting News, we’ve also got another giveaway! You can leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Aya Tsintziras’s debut novel, PRETTY BONES.

Raine has a family, good grades, best friends, and a boyfriend who loves her. But then anorexia takes over, and her life spirals out of control. Her efforts to hide her condition are finished when she collapses at a school dance. Although she’s whisked away to treatment, Raine isn’t ready to accept who she really is and get the help she desperately needs. For Raine, coming-of-age means coming closer to death.

Sooz will be announcing the winner on Wednesday. Stay tuned for the rest of our giveaways!

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QOTW: 2012 Debut Author Challenge!

11 Nov

Hi, everyone! (And Happy 11/11/11!)

In case you haven’t seen it yet, The Story Siren just launched her 2012 Debut Author Challenge!

A few of us have participated in previous years, but we are ESPECIALLY excited this year because LTWF has FOUR (4!!!) members with debut novels!  Susan Dennard (SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, out 7/24/11), Sarah J. Maas (QUEEN OF GLASS, Fall 2012), Vahini Naidoo (FALL TO PIECES, Fall 2012), and Kat Zhang (WHAT’S LEFT OF ME, Fall 2012)! Hooray!!!

You can find out more information about the 2012 Debut Author Challenge on The Story Siren’s website, and you can also see (and vote on!) the list of debuts here on Goodreads!

So, in honor of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge, we thought we’d share the debuts WE are most excited about!

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 If I had to pick a debut that I’m desperate to get my hands on, it’d have to be CINDER by Marissa Myer. The hype around the book, the cover, the sheer coolness of the story–I WANTS IT. Like STAT.

Susan Dennard

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 I’m really looking forward to Jodi Meadows’s debut, INCARNATE, (who can see that gorgeous cover and not want to open the book?) as well as TEMPEST by Julie Cross, because I’m a sucker for time travel stories. LOVE AND LEFTOVERS by Sarah Tregay also looks like something I’d like to read!

Julie Eshbaugh

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 A few of the books I’m super excited for have been named already, so I won’t go through them again. One that hasn’t been mentioned that I’m really intrigued by is THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass. The cover is gorgeous, and I admit it…I’m a sucker for books where girls get dressed up in ridiculously fancy dresses, hahaha. I’m also looking forward to CRACKED by K.M. Walton, because it seems like it’ll be an interesting and edgy contemp.

Kat Zhang

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 Ditto on INCARNATE and CINDER! They look absolutely incredible. I’m also reallllly pumped for SHADOW & BONE by Leigh Bardugo–I had the privilege of reading an early draft and it was SO stunning. I can’t wait to read it again–and to hear what other people think! And UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood, SCARLET by A. C. Gaughen, and STORM by Brigid Kemmerer look fabulous, too!

Sarah J. Maas

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What about YOU GUYS? How many of you are participating in the challenge? And what 2012 debuts are YOU most excited for? Inquiring minds want to know!

Book Recommendation: Lola and the Boy Next Door

26 Oct

LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins
Published 9/29/2011 by Dutton
338 Pages

I’d been eagerly awaiting the companion novel to Stephanie Perkins’ ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS (one of my favorite books of all time), but when the release day finally rolled around, I completely forgot! To be fair, I don’t know what day it is on a very frequent basis. Luckily, I had Twitter to remind me. I was a few days late in picking up my copy, but I managed to snag one from a book store while passing through Grand Central.

Now, I feel like there’s an expectation that second things — second books, second movies — rarely live up to the first. (Pirates of the Caribbean, I’m looking at you.) I wasn’t worried about LOLA, and my non-concerns were confirmed when reviews started popping up online saying how wonderful it was. It’s taken me a while to get to it, but I spent the last two days devouring it, and I can happily say that LOLA is just as wonderful as ANNA.

First of all, how adorable is that cover? I love the colors, the fact that Cricket is wearing pinstripes and rubberband bracelets, that they’re sitting on a window ledge, and Lola’s wig. There are so many details I didn’t even notice until I’d finished the book and actually took some time to study the image. It’s absolutely perfect.

Like ANNA, there are so many things to love about this book. Lola’s wardrobe is incredible, and I kind of wish I’d been brave enough as a teen to pull off the ensembles she wore. Her dads are adorable, and having never been to San Francisco, I felt as if I’d gone on vacation after I turned the last page. I had that same feeling when I finished ANNA — as if I’d just returned from a vacation in Paris — which is testament to the research and details Stephanie weaves into her stories. It’s really some of the best I’ve seen (read?).

And Cricket… can we just all bask in the incredible love interests Stephanie creates? I am still head-over-heels in love with St. Clair, but Cricket is JUST as lovable. There isn’t a single point where I doubted his sincerity, and there were definitely times where I just wanted to hug him for being so wonderful.

The best part of the book, though, was the message: When it’s right, love is easy. Sure, there will still be problems, but they can be worked out. Imperfections make you perfect for someone else, and together you make each other better. Lola reminded Cricket of his gift, and he’s the reason she’s confident in herself. I love that, like Anna and St. Clair, their relationship took time. It was charming in its realism, and even the situation with Calliope was relatable. Plus, who doesn’t love figure skating? Let’s be real.

If you loved ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, then I can guarantee you’ll love LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR. My heart swells just thinking about it.

~~~

A former agency intern and lit mag manager, Sammy Bina is now the literary assistant at N.S. Bienstock in New York City. In her free time she’s busy working on two YA novels, and contemplating a third. She tweets a bunch and has a new blog, which you can visit here.

Book Recommendation: Unbearable Lightness

12 Oct


UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS: A STORY OF LOSS AND GAIN by Portia de Rossi
Published November 2nd, 2010 by Simon & Schuster
272 Pages

Everyone, women and men alike, worry about their weight. Whether you’re naturally slim, or admittedly overweight, it’s something we all think about. How we can lose another pound or, in some cases, how to gain one. Portia de Rossi’s memoir is for anyone who’s ever worried what the world thought of them, or stared in a mirror and wondered if they were good enough, whether they were pretty/handsome enough. It’s a book everyone can relate to.

I think sometimes we forget that celebrities have problems. We see them on TV portraying a fictional person, or at an award show where they’re made up and dressed in clothes most of us could never afford. From our vantage point, they lead perfect lives. But this book reminds us that they’re human, too. That the pressure they feel to portray these people is real, and that, like the rest of us, they worry about what they wear, or how they look. If they’ll fit in.

Now, I never watched Ally McBeal as a kid. In fact, I didn’t even know who Portia de Rossi was until I started watching Ellen. She’d occasionally come on the show, and I liked her. Then, one day, I was watching an episode in which Portia was there to promote her new book. Interest piqued, I turned the volume up. She talked about her struggle with eating disorders and her fear of coming out. How her first marriage crumbled, and slowly, how everything else did too. Half the audience was crying, and there I was, sitting alone on my couch on a day I stayed home sick, sniffling and wiping tears away with the rest of them.

A week ago, a copy of Portia’s book fell into my lap, courtesy of one of my coworkers. I’ve spent the last few days with my nose buried in its pages while on the train, and while I cover reception for an hour every afternoon. It’s pretty impossible to put down, and not just because of the subject matter. Besides that, it’s well written to boot, and Portia wrote the entire thing herself. It’s raw, haunting, and in the end, full of hope.

What really gets you, though, are the details. The chipped bowl she’d eat out of so she knew exactly how much food was there. The fact that she ate with chopsticks so that the tuna lasted longer. The whole book is full of these heartbreaking moments, and it just sucks you in further and further. UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS is by far one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. I’ll probably be passing it off as a gift this Christmas, and I definitely need to get my own copy. I’d be proud to have this book on my shelf, and I think you guys would be too.

~~~

A former agency intern and lit mag manager, Sammy Bina is now the literary assistant at N.S. Bienstock in New York City. In her free time she’s busy working on two YA novels, and contemplating a third. She tweets a bunch and has a new blog, which you can visit here.

The Lightning Thief: a book recommendation

17 Aug

by Susan Dennard

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I have to say, I’m not usually a middle grade reader. I typically pick up YA, and if it weren’t for recent forays into writing MG, I wouldn’t have probably ever started the Percy Jackson series.

And oh how tragic that would have been.

Yes, this is a repeat review from my blog, but no, it’s not because I’m being lazy. It’s because you NEED to read this. As writers, you need to pick this up and observe how well Rick Riordan controls his craft.  From voice to plot to characterization, this book does it all REALLY well.

And come on, what’s not to love about modern day Greek myths and fish-out-of-water (quite literally) heroes?

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

As hinted above, the voice had me hooked on page 1. Percy is just so compelling and so entertaining. I love his sarcasm and the way you feel like he’s just a regular dude telling you his very non-regular story.  He feels twelve, but he also feels like an adult (read: CROSS-OVER APPEAL!).

If the voice hadn’t gotten me so thoroughly, then the characters would’ve been the thing to draw me in. I loved Annabeth (kick butt secondary females unite!) and Grover–not to mention all the gods and demi-gods and monsters. Yeah, Riordan did an amazing job bringing this world to very vivid life before my eyes. I loved how he dropped in all the Greek myths–and I had so much fun identifying things before Percy sorted it all out.

What really got me (in a good way), though, was that it had so many nice twists and turns! Figuring out who the bad guys were, what the prophecy referred to, and seeing it all set up for Major Epic-ness in later novels made this one un-put-down-able book!

If you’re looking for some great adventure, the sort of lovable hero who just barely scrapes by, or a world of gods and goddesses, be sure to read The Lightning Thief!

Have you read The Lightning Thief? What did you think?

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Saturday Grab Bag

30 Jul

Mashup

Here are some great links on writing, the industry, and all things book related. Some are serious, and some are just downright hilarious. We highly recommend you read them!

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What We’re Reading

Sammy: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

Sarah: VANISH by Sophie Jordan

Savannah: A DANCE OF DRAGONS by G. R. R. Martin

Susan: THE BODY FINDER by Kimberly Derting

Mandy: THOU SHALT NOT ROADTRIP by Antony John

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Early August Debuts

CLEOPATRA’S MOON by Vicky Alvear Shecter (8/1)

THE NEAR WITCH by Victoria Schwab (8/2)

DARK PARTIES by Sara Grant (8/3)

HOOKED by Catherine Greenman (8/9)

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What are you guys reading? Excited for any upcoming novels? Let us know in the comments!

Interview with Tara Hudson, author of HEREAFTER

4 Jul

by Susan Dennard

You all may recall my gushing recommendation of Tara Hudson’s Hereafter a few weeks back. Well, I am now absolutely ecstatic to share my recent interview with her!

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Tara Hudson graduated with a degree in law, mostly because she believed all the horror stories about English majors and their careers in the food-service industry. Luckily, she soon remembered how much she loved telling ghost stories, particularly to her girlfriends who liked visiting abandoned cemeteries as much as she did. Tara currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband, son, and a menagerie of ill-behaved pets.

Let’s get started, shall we?

So, Tara, when did you first start writing HEREAFTER? Was there any sort of inspiring moment behind it (like dreams of sparkly vampires—ha!)?

I actually remember the exact date I started writing HEREAFTER – April 14, 2009 – because I still have the email that I sent my best girlfriends, asking them to read the first chapter. But my inspiring moment, or event, happened in 2000, when I drew “first straw” to present a short story in my college Fiction Writing Workshop. I always had a fascination with old cemeteries (their history, their eerie sense of watchfulness), so I wrote a story about the type of person who might wake up in one. That early story haunted me, and almost ten years later, it grew into HEREAFTER.

Wow! That’s…impressive–I love that it’s been an idea boiling in your mind for so long. And I gotta say, you pull of the cemetery-creep-factor really well! When you set out to actually write it, were you a plotter or pantster?

I was a plotter, especially for HEREAFTER. I wrote the entire original manuscript based off of an outline, that set out a chapter-by-chapter sequence of events. But with ARISE, the second book in the Hereafter Trilogy, I totally pants-ed it. And you know what? The spontaneity worked, because I think ARISE blows HEREAFTER out of the water!

GASP! Oh my gosh, Tara, now you’ve got me drooling for ARISE. If the author thinks it’s great, it must be fan-freaking-tab-ulous! Plus, how awesome is that title–ARISE!? Now, tell us about your agent. Who is she and how did you win her heart?

My agent is the fantastic Catherine Drayton of InkWell Management. She was my dream agent – she represents Markus Zusak and Becca Fitzpatrick, for pete’s sake! – and I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance of landing representation with her. But she read my entire manuscript over the course of one weekend and liked it. She didn’t offer me representation right away because she wanted me to do some revising. Lucky for me, only two days after I started revisions, Catherine received a call from HarperCollins looking for something along the same lines as HEREAFTER. With my permission, Catherine pitched my manuscript and Harper loved it. Of course, I wasn’t surprised when my new editor – the equally legendary Barbara Lalicki – wanted the exact same revisions Catherine had suggested!

Wow. My jaw is kinda on the floor with that story… HEREAFTER is (as I have told everyone) amazing, but to hear the concept was so high that editors wanted it just like that… Well, go Tara! So now that you’re all published (wee!), what are you working on now?

Right now, I’m winding down revisions for ARISE and starting my outline for ELEGY, the final book in the Hereafter Trilogy. I’m also vacillating between two new projects – another YA paranormal and a YA fantasy – both of which I kind of love.

Awesome! I can’t lie that I’m really excited to hear you’re working on new projects–it’s my purely selfish desire to read them!! Finally, do you have any big words of writerly advice?

You can do this.

I get how that might sound trite, or like something your mother would say. But when I was writing HEREAFTER, I had a really demanding day job. Then, after I sold HEREAFTER and began revising it, I still had that day job as well as a brand new pregnancy. Then, after HEREAFTER was finished and I was under an intense deadline to write ARISE, I had the intense day job and a brand new baby.

And you know what? I did it. With all those life responsibilities, I wrote two books of which I’m extremely proud. So whatever you’re struggling with while trying to write or query or submit or revise, you CAN do this, mostly because you love it that much.

We can do it! I’ve been terrified of tackling my own book 2, and I gotta say: you’ve made me feel better, Tara. This is wonderful advice and so, so true.

Thank you for taking the time out of your very busy life to answer my questions, and I can’t wait to see your other books in stores. (No seriously, if there’s anyway you can hook me up with an ARC for ARISE… ::nudge, nudge::)

Now, for those of you Americans out there, Happy Fourth of July! Go out and read Hereafter–you won’t regret it!

~~~

You can learn more about Tara Hudson on her website , blog, or twitter!

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.


Shadowed Summer: a book recommendation

17 Jun

by Susan Dennard

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(Note: this is a repost from my personal blog–this book is just too good to not spread around!)

Don’t judge this book by its cover. 😉

No really–we have to be honest: it’s not the most eye-catching cover ever made.  Ignore that because Saundra Mitchell’s Shadowed Summer IS one of the most entertaining ghost stories I’ve ever read. Ever.

Iris is ready for another hot, routine summer in her small Louisiana town, hanging around the Red Stripe grocery with her best friend, Collette, and traipsing through the cemetery telling each other spooky stories and pretending to cast spells. Except this summer, Iris doesn’t have to make up a story. This summer, one falls right in her lap.

Years ago, before Iris was born, a local boy named Elijah Landry disappeared. All that remained of him were whispers and hushed gossip in the church pews. Until this summer. A ghost begins to haunt Iris, and she’s certain it’s the ghost of Elijah. What really happened to him? And why, of all people, has he chosen Iris to come back to?

There are two things that make this novel strong–two things that pulled me in so deeply, I didn’t want the story to end.

1) Iris’s voice. She is Southern America at it’s finest, and the twang on those pages stayed in my head for days! The accent just slides off the page, and I felt like I was back home in Georgia. On top of that, Iris is such a likable heroine. She’s tough, but uncertain. She’s new to boys, but curious. She’s worried to learn the truth, but she’ll do whatever it takes to do the right thing.

2) The setting. Oh man, did rural Louisiana come to life for me! I could feel the humidity, hear the cicadas, imagine the cold sodas and boiling sweat. Maybe it was so vivid since that’s what I grew up with (well, no sodas…darn parents), but I really think Mitchell is also just an incredibly deft storyteller.

So, if you’re looking for a non-romance paranormal YA, a quick and absorbing read, or just something set in the South, don’t miss Shadowed Summer!

Have you read this? Have you read anything else by Saundra Mitchell?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Book Review: Bossypants

23 May

By Sammy Bina

~~~

I admit, I do not religiously watch 30 Rock. In fact, I’ve only seen two episodes in my entire life. And while I watch SNL on occasion, it’s a very rare occasion. I can, however, quote Mean Girls with the best of them (“You go, Glen Coco! Four for you, Glen Coco!”) and really respect Tina Fey. I think she’s incredibly smart, hilarious, gorgeous, and totally in charge of her life. When Bossypants came out, I was hesitant to pick up a copy because I don’t really follow 30 Rock, and thought a lot of the humor would go straight over my head.

Boy, was I wrong. In fact, if anything, I think I took away some very important lessons after reading this book.

Some things I’ve taken away with me:
– Make sure I know where the lifeboats are when/if I ever go on a cruise.
– My Sarah Palin impersonation could use some work.
– If you even remotely look like someone famous, use it to your advantage.
– I should’ve spent more time with theater kids after high school.
– Never hike up a mountain at night to impress a boy.
– Don’t provide my children with informational packets meant for adults.
– It will be a huge hassle to get Oprah to appear on my future Emmy-nominated reality show.
– I need to be in more professional photo shoots.

Bossypants is essentially a memoir detailing the (not-so) finer points of Tina Fey’s existence. It covers her awkward childhood, reminding me of some of my own mishaps. Of course she talks about her time with SNL and her current place at 30 Rock. But above that, it’s incredibly empowering. The feminist in me fist-pumped at many points throughout the book. Tina Fey sets a great example, not just for women, but for anyone (especially the awkward and average) trying to do something with their life. After I finished, I felt like I could go out there and do anything. Except maybe fly.

Tina Fey tells it like it is. She encourages people to be who they are and nothing less. If there’s one thing I took away from her book, it’s that.

Also, to have a box of Kleenex nearby. To wipe away the constant flow of tears caused by endless laughter.

~~~

Sammy Bina graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English literary agency. She is currently editing her YA dystopian, SILENCE. You can follow her blog or find her on twitter.

Book Recommendation: Wither

12 Apr

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this a few months ago and have been anxiously awaiting its release so I could tell you all to go pick up a copy!

But before I even try to put into words how much I loved this book, let’s just take a moment to admire the cover, shall we? Lizzy Bromley did an INCREDIBLE job. The art nerd in me geeked out over this image. There are so many textures in the photo, the coloring is subdued but pops against the pink geometric patterns (I’m not sure if they’re supposed to represent the lines architects use, which would be especially cool), and I, for one, appreciate the symbolism with the bird in the cage. The fashionista in me also just loved the dress the model’s wearing. The geometric pattern continues throughout the book, so every time I turned the page, I couldn’t help but smile. If you want an aesthetically pleasing book, look no further. WITHER takes the cake, hands down.

But cover aside, the story itself is fantastic. Here’s a summary, taken from goodreads:

What if you knew exactly when you would die? 

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

That description was initially what drew me in. As a dystopian writer/lover myself, this sounded like something right up my alley. Weird age requirements? Check. A mildly effed-up love triangle? Check. Strange, freaky science stuff? Check. Add to that one of the most gorgeous covers I’ve ever seen, and I knew I had to have it.

A word to the wise: pick up a copy of this book as soon as you get the chance. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. And that hasn’t happened to me in a while.

In the past year or two, I’ve had a hard time suspending my disbelief while reading some YA novels. That wasn’t the case with WITHER at all. In fact, I bought the story hook, line, and sinker. Though we’re never given a specific date for when the story takes place, we’re told it’s in the very near future. I’ll throw out 2100 as my guess. The world Rhine lives in operates very much the way ours does, with a few exceptions (for starters, the destruction of NYC boroughs, and Gatherers that snatch girls up to sell to the highest bidder). The idea of Gatherers freaked me out so much, in fact, I actually jumped when a gray van drove past me the day after I’d read it. Vaughn’s basement was especially terrifying. Perhaps because we see so little of it, but are left with Rhine’s speculations, or because DeStefano describes it with such haunting detail. You feel trapped inside the house as much as Rhine does, and I applaud  Lauren DeStefano for that. As a reader, you feel totally submerged in this bleak, dreary world, and it leaves you stunned for a while after you’re done.

The prose is absolutely phenomenal. The descriptions are spot-on and unique. I found quite a few phrases I wish I’d come up with myself. Things were described in ways you’d never think would be accurate, but were frighteningly astute observations once you actually thought about it. The description of the autumn leaves really stuck with me, and I doubt I’ll ever see them the same way again. I’ll be looking to experience them the same way Rhine did. The sign of a great writer is when they make you rethink things you take for granted. This book really made me appreciate some of the little things in life I never really considered important.

The characters were just as great as the cover and descriptions. The sister wives (not to be confused with that awful, yet addicting show on TLC) were girls I constantly wanted to hug. Cecily is endearing, despite being a brat, and Jenna’s fiercely loyal beneath a hard exterior. Even minor characters, like the cooks, or the bumbling servant, were charming in their own ways. Vaughn wasn’t the stereotypical villain I was expecting because, underneath all the horrible things he was doing, you knew he was doing it because he loved his son. And poor Linden, who was so utterly clueless about the world and how his wives came to him. I wanted to hate him, but I just couldn’t. He’s almost more of a child than Cecily, and you just want to play mom and tell him everything’s going to be okay. Gabriel, though we don’t see him with Rhine all that often, is charming in his own way. And when he’s in trouble, you understand Rhine’s panic and wish you could help him, too.

But above all, I loved Rhine. She’s a great heroine for a story like this. In some ways, she reminds me of Katniss from THE HUNGER GAMES. She comes from a place where family members have to constantly look out for each other, and a home without parents (Katniss had a mother, but you know what I mean). Throughout her captivity, all she wants is to get home to her brother. And while we never meet Rowan, I like him, and I like their relationship. Rhine does whatever it takes to fool those around her to get what she wants – to get back home. She’s driven, and she knows what she wants, but she has doubts. The fact that she’s human, that sometimes she doubts her resolve, really resonated with me. It made her relatable, and it made you want her to succeed even more. She’s been forced into this terrible situation, but she manages to find pockets of light amongst the darkness. She makes friends. And when it comes down to it, maybe even love. And despite how much she wants to escape, she still wants to protect those around her. She’s strong, but she’s flawed, and I think a lot of readers are going to like her once they can get their hands on this book. So go out, get a copy, and join me in anxiously awaiting the second book!

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Sammy Bina is finishing up her last semester of college as a creative writing major. She’s currently revising her YA dystopian, SILENCE, and is an intern for the Elaine P. English Literary Agency. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.