Archive for the ‘must-read books’ category

Reading a Book in the Midst of Everything

08/04/2011

I just posted this over at jameystegmaier.com and thought it was relevant to the Blank Slate Press crowd too.

When you were younger, did you ever find yourself so wrapped up in a book that the rest of the world melted away? Maybe that happens to you as an adult too, but I feel like we read in socially acceptable places now, even in public: coffee shops, the park, cafes. When I was younger, I could be walking through a crowd of people at Disney World, and would be considerably more aware of the world Roald Dahl created on the page than the actual world around me.

Kudos to books, because this is awesome.

I thought of this because I went to the Cardinals game the other day and saw something I hadn’t seen in a while. These days I see kids playing on their parents’ iPhones or the Nintendo DS’s. Rarely do I see a kid get as wrapped up in a book as I used to. But I know it happens, because young adult fiction is hugely successful right now.

As I walked to my seat at the game, I noticed a young girl–maybe 11 or 12–completely engrossed in a book. The game had started (Cubs/Cards; she was wearing a Cubs uniform), but she didn’t care. I craned my neck to see what book could compel a kid to read instead of watch the game, but I couldn’t see the cover.

She didn’t read for the entire game, but now and then she’d pull out the book. I know what it’s like to not be able to put a book down. It actually feels…good. Other forms of media don’t have that effect. (Okay, maybe True Blood.)

What’s the last book that you got so wrapped up in that the rest of the world melted away?

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Review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

07/19/2011

by Elena Makansi, BSP Summer Intern

I had the privilege of hearing author Laini Taylor’s editor speak about this book at BEA, during the YA Editor’s Buzz panel. She sold it as an exciting, beautifully written, engaging book with a kick-ass, beautiful heroine. A sort of Angels and Devils tale, set in contemporary Prague. While most of that sounded great, I was a bit turned off by the whole “kick-ass beautiful heroine” part. Of course I love reading about powerful women, and I think it is awesome that young readers, especially young women, can look up to and be empowered by these characters. However, after reading many, many YA novels with kick-ass, beautiful heroines, the idea became a bit annoying. They’re all beautiful, yet perfectly flawed in the luckiest ways—they’re stubborn or arrogant or socially-awkward-but-not-really. They’re the Chosen ones, Marked ones, Unique-in-every-way ones.

Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone is indeed beautiful. And she kicks her fair share of ass. She’s sneaky, mysterious, artsy, and dutifully fulfills many of the YA genre’s stock heroine’s characteristics. But this novel surprised me in a wonderful way. Karou’s characterization—indeed the characterization of all of the main players including Akiva, Zuzana, and Brimstone—goes above and beyond stock and wedges a stake right through the reader’s heart. Karou feels as if she’s missing something; she is lost, lonely, confused. The reader cannot help but just feel deeply for Karou. Through graceful and empathetic writing, Taylor takes her readers into the hearts, not just the minds, of her characters.

The premise in a nutshell: angels and devils are at war, and neither deserve to win. The plot, to a seasoned but growing older by the day YA reader, seems at first glance to be trite: an angel falls in love with a devil, but they can’t be together because they’re at war. How many different angel and devil stories have gone wrong? Many. But prepare to be wondrously (pleasantly is an understatement) surprised. This world is incredibly creative, layered with fascinating details and back story.

The seraphim and the chimaera (They’re not actually angels and devils, and they don’t actually live in heaven or hell. Those are mythical words created by naïve humans.)  have familiar attributes and characteristics, such as wings, but their personalities, histories, myths, and magic are so richly imagined as to dance off the page in a flutter of blood-spattered sparkles. And yes, there is blood. This war is brutal to the core. Taylor is unafraid; while I wouldn’t call this book an epic, the story certainly has a wide wingspan. It’s an urban fantasy set mainly in the streets of Prague, but towards the end of the book we get a glimpse into the fantastical Otherworld. The entire otherworldly realm is at war—and has been for thousands of years. In order to save their race, the chimaera and the seraphim must sacrifice…well, a lot of things. You’ll see.

Taylor’s story is gorgeous, exciting, knock-your-socks-off surprising, and so creative and just damn fun (not to mention, funny) that I’d recommend it to fantasy-loving teens, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers alike. In fact, if it wasn’t for my mother’s own insistence that I give Karou a chance, I would have wrongfully ignored Daughter of Smoke and Bone. This book’s got magic, Moroccan marketplaces, Parisian subways,  teeth, romance, myth, gorgeous world-building, loss, mystery, wishes, and art. The only problem I have now is waiting for the sequel–especially since Daughter of Smoke and Bone itself will not be released until the end of September.

Sincerity Means Never Judging The Book Before It’s Been Cooked

12/22/2010

Here’s a review Regina Till, a fellow writer and friend, sent me after reading an ARC of The Samaritan. It is not only extremely gratifying, but it made me laugh out loud–especially since she’s eaten my cooking and lived to tell.  I’m delighted to present it in full:

Do you share this conundrum now and then, when a friend says something like, “I can’t wait for you to see my…taste my…meet my….”  (I.E. Hair style?  World class chili?  New boyfriend?) You pray there will at least be something there to which you can offer a positive comment or two.  (I.e. Green is your color!   Is that ketchup I taste?   His moustache looks so real …) Before you’ve even smelled the chili,  you’re warming up for ketchup?

A friend of mine started her own publishing company.  It features writers from the greater St. Louis region.   She and her partners leaped in with a concrete investment of money, time and know-how, and a faith that if you build it (offer excellent fiction) people (readers/investors) will come.  Their philosophy transpired out of their experience; that talent exists right here in river city and surrounds,  and with it a large pool of authors who don’t get the opportunity to be read, or the recognition they deserve, for a variety of reasons.  In addition to the pure talent of available authors, they ascribed to that time-tested (and largely cast aside in the rest of the publishing world) art of editor/author symbiosis that would nurture good into better.   It all sounded fine to me, even as I was a little doubtful that the result could challenge the stacks of unread books I have sitting next to my overflowing bookshelves.  It was that skeptic in me who prepared for a worst-case scenario. How would I kindly encourage if I honestly thought the result was at best a nice try, at worse, a one-chapter read and a painful glaze-over through the rest?   In the meantime, the chili was on the stove.

So when she announced last summer that her company, Blank Slate Press, had two new authors, and then more recently that the books were done, and the first author’s book was ready for release, I gave her the easy (for me) truth.  Congratulations!  And I meant it.  That, in itself, was an accomplishment.  Blank Slate Press fulfilled a promise to writers if nothing else.  And in only a little more than a year, no less!   That’s good news.   If the actual books proved to be only so-so, well, there is honor in trying.

But of course, the time came.  “I’ll give you an early copy, let me know, honestly, what you think,” she said.  Immediately my mind ran a treadmill of worn out platitudes and phrases.  (Fascinating premise.  The cover is eye catching!  Good use of semi-colons.)  But more importantly, how would I  (or should I even) let her down if, after reading, all I thought she was doing was feeding a delusion?  Beg off with the truth, that I am only one reader?  That I am a cranky one on top of it?  That I am, after all, no critic?

And then I read the book.  The Samaritan, by Fred Venturini.

Forget the platitudes, the semi-colons, my miss-guided B.S.  This book rocks, and I mean that literally.  It agitated my nerve, shocked my senses, punched holes in my understanding.  If you read books (maybe especially if you haven’t picked up a book of fiction in years), on the first of February you can get a copy and read for it yourself .  I urge you to do so.   With one caution:  If you’re squeamish or reticent about brutal or graphic descriptions of violence, (it is raw and explicit), then you may want to pass on this.  For everyone else, there is much more in this book than that disclaimer does justice.

The Samaritan is about loss and regret and regeneration (you read that right) and how hope slides into the crevices of our darkest spaces and moves us on, despite.  It’s about a guy named Dale, whose talents take a backseat to his humanity, and his friend, whose buried humanity regenerates along with Dale’s actual body parts.  It’s about the illusion of healing, and the ways we can, and sometimes do, sabotage the best we have to offer.  It’s about coming up for air every time, just because.  It’s also relentlessly fast-paced, with a meter in each sentence and phrase that comes at you like a line drive, scoring strikes along the way that keep you asking why?  What more?

“…they were one person back then, one voice meant to draw you into trouble, hypnotic as strippers and capable of the same broken promises.”

“It was an endearing reaction to behold, seeing the light beaming through the seams of his ego.”

“Funny how hatred of something causes sign-building, but a passion to defend something just causes anger.”

“I cradled his head and started bawling, a cry that no bite could control, the kind of blazing sorrow that puts a bellows squeeze on lungs.”

It’s a man’s book; (a book about men and the boy’s voice inside that spurs them on), that women will feel true.   And while the premise is fantastical, the yearning to make a difference in this world, to shout “I was here” that seeps from the flesh and dreams of these characters, is something I think most of us feel at one time or another no matter our gender, our background or our specific desires.

Bravo to the author, Fred Venturini.  And to Kristy Blank Makansi and BSP, this reader is sincere; I’ll be glad to recommend this book to anyone. Just don’t ask me about your chili recipe.

All I can say is THANK YOU to Reggie, who I knew would tell me the truth–no matter what. To read a chapter of The Samaritan for yourself, click on over to http://scr.bi/i0k4N0.  Pre-ordering ability is coming soon.

Like mystery and suspense?

08/05/2010

NPR’s listeners voted on the top 100 Killer Thrillers and came up with a must-read scary books list.Get the whole story here and find out more about what makes a book keep readers on the edge of their seats:

The NPR audience nominated some 600 novels to our “Killer Thrillers” poll and cast more than 17,000 ballots. The final roster of winners is a diverse one to say the least, ranging in style and period from Dracula to The Da Vinci Code, Presumed Innocent to Pet Sematary. What these top 100 titles share, however, is that all of them are fast-moving tales of suspense and adventure.

Here’s the top 10.  How many of these have you read?

  • 1. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
  • 2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • 3. Kiss the Girls, by James Patterson
  • 4. The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum
  • 5. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
  • 6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
  • 7. The Shining, by Stephen King
  • 8. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
  • 9. The Hunt tor Red October, by Tom Clancy
  • 10. The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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