Tag Archives: book recommendation

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.

~~~

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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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

~~

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.

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

~~

(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: A Mountain of Crumbs, by Elena Gorokhova

13 May

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

A MOUNTAIN OF CRUMBS is everything a memoir should be… beautiful, insightful, and transportive. It tells the story of young Elena growing up in Soviet Russia, her fascination with the west, and her efforts to create opportunities for herself despite a culture irrevocably entangled in The Game, called vranyo:

“My parents play it at work, and my older sister Marina plays it at school. We all pretend to do something, and those who watch us pretend that they are seriously watching us and don’t know we are only pretending.”

AMOC takes the reader into the heart of Soviet Russia and plunks you down just before the author herself is born, so that we get a feel for her resilient, military doctor mother, and the struggles she endured to not only marry a husband who wouldn’t eventually die in the war, but care for her village which had no birthing center -until her mother wrote to Stalin himself for permission to set one up in her own apartment.

Like mother, like daughter. Elena was strong growing up, despite several mishaps that intimately portray what life was actual like in that place and time. That was what I loved best about this memoir; not only is it a story, but it’s an immersion and an explanation, a psychological peek into a culture far removed from my own.

Though Elena has lived in the United States for decades now, she still channels the perspective of her childhood and adolescence perfectly. She is the gateway, the translator, showing us something completely different while explaining it in ways we can relate to.

As an example of this different perspective, when Elena is a teenager she works for a tour agency that takes visiting foreigners on carefully structured and scripted tours of her city. The Russia the foreigners see is not the one that actually exists; with guards on street corners and lines for toilet paper beneath signs praising the Socialist Party.

One boy tries to give her a gift to thank her for her help during his visit, but from the gift shop he selects a beautiful silver bracelet. In the boy’s eyes he is giving her something pretty and special; a gift he would give a girl back home. A gift a girl back home would be delighted with.

But to Elena, the bracelet is a symbol of the freedoms he has that she does not. As a tour guide, she is allowed to enter the gift shop with her charges, but she may not purchase anything from it. No Russian can; the gift shop is part of the tour’s facade. It was created to show foreigners that Russians have nice things, but it’s all a sham, part of the vranyo. Besides, what good would a silver bracelet do Elena? She’d rather have a book, or a new pair of pantyhose. Those are the status symbols of her culture, not beautiful bracelets no one is even allowed to buy.

It’s not just the different perspective that I loved, however. Elena’s work is poetic, especially in the beginning as she describes the yellow waters on the shore of her family’s summer home, or the vivid imaginings her young mind produces as a result to every threat: Her father’s near-death on a fishing trip, monsters threatening from every dark corner, and the scents and textures of her grandmother’s garden. This was my favorite passage from the book:

“The o‘s in the Russian word for whirlpool, vodovorot, rolled down his tongue like a handful of peas.”

Billy Collins former U.S. Poet Laureate, of whom I’m a huge fan, even agreed to blurb this book, saying, it is “the Russian equivalent of Angela’s Ashes.”

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that it ended! We follow Elena through to her marriage to an American in order to get a passport (a mutual decision), but shortly afterwards the book ends. I can’t wait for the sequel to be written so we can see how she reacts to America.

If you enjoy memoirs (like me!), or if you’re curious about Soviet Russia (especially if you like Russian fairy tales and want a bigger insight into the culture that produced them), I highly recommend picking up A MOUNTAIN OF CRUMBS, from Simon and Schuster.

Elena Gorokhova is represented by Molly Friedrich, of the Friedrich Agency.

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal. She is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.

The Greatest Series You’ve Never Read

26 Apr

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

GAME OF THRONES. The title is in the air. The four-book-long (and soon to be five) series called A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE from George R. R. Martin was recently turned into a (fairly fantastic) HBO series, and since then everyone’s been talking about the books: when is the next one coming out, why has it been so long of a wait (7 years!), the subculture fandom, and even the people who stalk Martin to complain about him not writing.

For a series so huge, you’d think that we’d all have read it already, or at least have heard of it. But until a few months ago I never had. How can that be possible? I’m an avid reader. In high school I read two books a day! I’m a fantasy fan. I hung out with people who are fantasy fans, as well! WHY didn’t anyone tell me about this fantastic series sooner?!

That’s the point of today’s post. If you’ve never heard about GAME OF THRONES, or if you have and are curious to learn more, or even if you’ve heard and think it’s not for you, let me tell you about it and hopefully convince you to run out right NOW and buy the book!

 ~~~

First of all, the series is classified as high fantasy, but it is NOT boring, dusty, or nerdy. It’s beautiful, violent, sexy, surprising, and witty. When I first heard the generic description: multi-POV, war-based, 700 pages, etc., I thought to myself ‘Greeaaat. This is going to take months and I’ll have to skip a lot of chapters.’ Not to offend, but I was expecting Tolkien.

Boy was I wrong. I could (and have) sat and read all day, as fast as I could, absolutely dying to find out what was going to happen next. The multiple POVs was rarely taxing or boring; most often I would be exasperated that the next chapter wouldn’t continue where the previous left off, yet at the same time thrilled to return to a previous character. These books are an excellent example of multiple POVs done right.

As for the plot itself, again, the basic description did nothing for me: a clash of great houses, all trying to claim (or reclaim) the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. Meh. But then I got to know the characters. The deal with this story is that, for all its sweeping plot, it’s a character-driven story. I care what happens because these characters are fascinating and entertaining. They plot and love and lose their tempers, both betray and are betrayed, sacrifice and thieve. And I was rooting for them at every turn. The most interesting about this multiple perspectives is that we follow people on all sides of the clash, and can’t be quite sure who we want to win.

Is it the Stark family, protectors of the North, whose six children all claim direwolves as pets, scattered to the four winds and trying to find each other in a maze of battles, imprisonment, and uneasy alliances? Arya, the little girl who passes for a boy to stay safe, wielding her own sword and fighting with rocks when she has to, Sansa the beauty, caught in a court of lies and cruelty, trying to survive without being forced to betray her family, Bran, the young boy who slips into his wolf’s skin, Robb, who might be king if he can stay alive, and John Snow, their father’s bastard child, sworn to chaste and life-long service on the Wall, a gigantic barrier barring the North from the South, keeping both wildlings and the mythical Others at bay.

Or are we cheering for the Lannisters, wed to the royal family? Cruel, conniving, incestuous, and murderers, yes, but what about Tyrion, the black sheep of the family, a sarcastic, whoring dwarf alternately trying to protect his family from themselves while holding the kingdom together and wading through the web of lies and secrets of the past. I love Tyrion; he’s tortured and witty, brilliant and jaded, yet oddly naïve in the matters of the heart. Every time I get to read another of his chapters I nearly burst in excitement, because I know it’s going to be packed full of plot development.

Then we have Daenerys Stormborn, blood of the dragon. Sister of the murdered former King, exiled beyond the sea as a baby, and recently married to a horse-riding barbarian king, she is the rightful heir to the Seven Kingdoms, but struggling to raise her army to return and claim her throne. At fifteen she becomes a queen of barbarians, but the only way to victory is through tragedy, black magic, vast, conquering armies and the rule of threes: Three loves, three betrayals… and three dragons.

In this world, when winter comes it stays for an unknown number of years, but always longer after a long summer. And it has been a very long summer. With the throne up for grabs and five contenders for King (or Queen), the world ignores a plea for help from the Wall. The ancient legend of the Others is proving true: undying snow mages who make the dead walk and only arrive in the dark and cold. And as the Stark family motto says, Winter is Coming.

 ~~~

 If you haven’t yet, you MUST read this series. And then watch the HBO show, because it’s fabulous as well. A word of warning: I had a hard time getting past the prologue in GAME OF THRONES, mostly because I didn’t have a grip on the world yet, but you need to read it because it foreshadows something really important. Additionally, there’s a tragedy that happens early on, but you need to keep reading past it. Just trust me. 🙂 Give yourself five chapters and you’ll be hooked. I promise.

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal. She is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.

Book Recommendation: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

18 Apr

Markus Zusak rose to prominence with the success of his lyrical and intensely emotional novel The Book Thief, and obviously, when Zusak shot to fame I was thrilled that a writer I had loved since I was twelve was getting some much deserved attention – but sometimes I feel like his other novels get ignored, when they’re also absolutely stellar.

In particular, I Am the Messenger is amazing, and spoke to my heart. I went back and read this book again, recently, and like The Book Thief, I Am the Messenger has prose that stuns with its vibrancy, humour and emotional depth. In a pitch-perfect voice, Zusak expertly twists together phrases that sit so well in the mouth of his average, slightly lower class suburban protagonist, giving them a zinging beauty. Every single scene is memorable, and there’s a profundity behind the words despite how casual and effortless it all seems.

Here’s a summary of The Messenger, snatched from goodreads:

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Winner of the 2003 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love.

The plot of  I Am the Messenger is creatively structured, around a set of heroic missions, in which Ed has to deliver certain messages. The book plunges to the depths of human suffering and the heights of redemption, never sugar-coating and never sliding and never sliding into melodrama. Without spoiling too much, we see families cracked wide open by abuse, and the way random acts of kindness can be everything to those experiencing poverty. It’s dark, this book, but funny, too, and at times it slips into an almost surreal quirkiness and self-reflectivity.

I Am the Messenger has one of the best endings I’ve read in YA. It fits perfectly, pushing through the page with resonance, inspiring the reader on to greater heights in their everyday life. You’d never notice it while reading, because the story is so entrancing, so expertly crafted, but this book is social commentary at its finest. Witty, and refreshingly bittersweet, rather than unrelentingly dark and nihilistic.

And now that I’ve raved for a while, I’ll leave you with the first few lines:

The gunman is useless.
I know it.
He knows it.
The whole bank knows it.

How can you resist an opener like that?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, a YA psychological thriller, is scheduled for release from Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can visit Vahini over on her blog or twitter.