Wednesday, September 8, 2010

the message

Yesterday I finished Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger, and it completely blew me away.

Now, I love a lot of books. In fact, it's rare that I dislike a book at all. But there are some that just strike you on a whole different level, and I Am the Messenger is one of those.

It wasn't because of the plot. For example, a few books before this I read Ben Mezrich's Busting Vegas. Now, I'm not knocking this book in any way. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, and literally grinned the entire time I was reading (when I wasn't cringing-- things get dicey, no pun intended). But even if Mezrich didn't have a mastery of storytelling, I was already predisposed to love it, just like I was predisposed to love Ocean's 11, even it wasn't the greatest movie ever made. Trying to beat the casinos? Perfection. But even though I Am the Messenger, the story of underachieving, underage cab driver Ed Kennedy, whose life is turned upside down when he begins receiving mysterious messages forcing him to act in his community, had a completely engrossing storyline, it wasn't that that affected me so deeply.

It wasn't the characters, either, though they were quirky, complex, entertaining, and real. While there was no passionate crush this time, I certainly had a favorite character, and during this character's climax I literally welled up with tears of happiness. Yes. My favorite character literally made me cry tears of joy, and it still wasn't the characters that kept me reeling all day with the power of the novel.

It was the writing. Writing that lets you know you're in the shadow of true genius. Writing so phenomenal that you miss subway stops because you can't pull yourself out of the story. Writing so beautiful that you're emotionally on edge the rest of the day. Writing so amazing that you (I) realize all over again exactly why being an author is the most important thing in the world.

I could go on for pages about it, of course. I could write about how unique his style is; how I love that the senses are used in unconventional ways for stunning description, like tasting joy; how the carefully placed breaks only emphasize the power of the words themselves. But I won't, because, as you may have guessed by now, this isn't a book review.

Even if you hadn't guessed, you may have been thinking that the titles I mentioned sound familiar. Well, you're right.

Ben Mezrich is a New York Times bestselling author of many books, including Bringing Down the House (another great read), the basis for the movie 21, and The Accidental Billionaires (on my to-read list), the basis for the movie The Social Network.

And, of course, there's Markus Zusak. I Am the Messenger won several awards, but you're probably thinking of The Book Thief, another stunning read (and incredible bestseller) about a girl growing up in WWII... narrated by Death himself.

You may be wondering what's going on here. After all, isn't this a blog about saving mid-list authors?

Technically, yes. Absolutely. But it's more than that, too. Because specifically, it's not about contracts, or sales, or the business of publishing, or even the mid-list and the writers who reside there. It's about the written word, and the power it can hold. It's about those beautiful moments of clarity when your life is personally affected by a book. When a manuscript grabs a hold of you and doesn't let go for years. And it doesn't matter whether the writer is bestselling Richard Adams or mid-list Hilari Bell. The point is that even after reading Adams' Watership Down 15 times (the hailed "modern classic" and "modern epic" is one of my all-time favorites),my heart still beats faster with nerves every time I get to the chapter "Fear in the Dark" -- even though there shouldn't be any suspense, because I not only know what happens, I can quote it. The point is that I couldn't read another book for two days after finishing Bell's Player's Ruse, because the ending was such an emotionally charged whirlwind involving a character written so well I have a bordering-on-unhealthy crush on him.

So the point of this blog is not to fight for an abstract, the vague "mid-list." The point is to make sure that the books that affect us don't fade into oblivion. And sometimes they don't need our help, because they sell like Harry Potter books. Sometimes, they are Harry Potter books.But sometimes these books are on the mid-list, which is suffering. So we have to make sure that they survive to touch someone else's life, and we have to make sure the category of mid-list survives, so that more authors are given the opportunity to change our lives.

And that's why I made this blog. I'm going to continue reading whatever strikes my fancy, both best-seller and mid-list, but I'm only going to review mid-list books. Not only that, though-- the mid-list books that I really stand behind,the ones that really made me laugh, or think, or feel.

The ones that really deserve it.

And remember, you can help too: support your favorite mid-list authors, spread the word, follow me on twitter, and email an original review to doingitwrite@gmail.com for a guest spot on my blog. And keep reading. As nerdy as it sounds, having your eyes fill with tears of joy is everything it's cracked up to be.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

the real thin line

Everyone knows that there's a thin line between love and hate, but these aren't the only ambiguous opposites out there. There's also a thin line between love and creepiness, hilarity and awkwardness, humor and sadness, sympathy and hatred, empathy and disgust, and the ever-intriguing adult and young adult literature.

And David Yoo's Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before has them all, with the lines drawn thinner than ever.

Stop Me is a young adult book, but it's written in such a literary style that it could easily cross the generation gap-- you don't have to be in high school to enjoy this book, you just have to remember what it was like.

Or not. Because Yoo captures the experience in such an awesome, vivid way that you'll be swept up in the high school experience no matter how many years have passed. It's true to the emotions, drama, and angst, yet written with a style most high schoolers could never dream to accomplish. So what could have been a fun, light (and potentially really annoying, given the narrator's typical high school self absorption) read -- one that you enjoy but don't think about once you close the back cover, filled with the same old slang and lackluster writing in an attempt to capture a current time -- is transformed into a book that really has the potential to be timeless.

Sort of like Romeo and Juliet, which is what the main character, Albert, compares his story to.

But without all the death.

Stop Me is the story of Albert Kim, a high school junior known as the "creepy mute" because of his refusal to participate in the social scene that hasn't accepted him since elementary school. He's such a loser that his only "friends" are a group of adoring 11-year-olds impressed with his video game and capture the flag prowess, and so awkward that when forced to interact with Mia Stone-- one of the prettiest girls in school and the recent ex-girlfriend of lacrosse god Ryan Stackhouse-- during their summer job together at a local inn, Albert has to resort to crazy measures just to be able to speak to her, like smacking himself in the face, cursing like a sailor, and being a general dick as he starts to fall for her.

Because, of course, this isn't just the story of Albert. It's the story of Albert and Mia, of how they fall in love, and how they fall apart.

Don't worry, there are no spoilers here-- it's nothing that Albert doesn't bitterly inform the reader in the prologue... though I will say that the ending isn't quite what you'd expect, in a good way.

You might be wondering why I'm even reviewing this book. "It sounds great," you're thinking (or I hope you're thinking, because otherwise my reviewing skills aren't working very well), "but a literary style and a failed romance? Really?"

Well, skeptics, let me put your mind at ease: Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before is also laugh-out-loud hilarious.

My new thing, apparently, is to read books so unexpectedly funny that I look crazy when I read them in public areas.

Stop Me is funny for two reasons. There are funny experiences: sad/funny situations like Albert's 11-year-old cronies (they have their own clubhouse), and scenes that are funny/so-awkward-you-almost-feel-uncomfortable-reading-because-Albert-is-so-socially-inept-its-painful. And then there's the voice, which is hysterical as well as literary.

Okay, I'm not just impressed, I'm jealous. How did he pull it off so smoothly?

But instead of just going on about it, I'll give you a sample of what I mean, when Albert notices that Mia's ex is absent:

"That's how it is with people like Ryan Stackhouse. Love him or hate him, his absence is palpable, and school life doesn't feel right anymore. You could almost taste it, the fact that he wasn't there that day. Incidentally, his absence tasted like popcorn chicken. I lie."

Albert's voice is descriptive and emotive, but peppered with cursing, pop culture references, and snide asides like the popcorn chicken that make him an authentic (if articulate) teen, rather than sounding like a 40-year-old trying to relate to youth.

And that alone makes the book worth reading, but the story is fantastic, too. Depending on what website you go on, more of the plot is revealed, but I won't reveal anything here that isn't in the prologue or back cover, because I hate spoilers myself, and the rift that gets in between Albert and Mia is a surprising one. So all I'll say is this: the situations Albert finds himself in-- both getting together with Mia and the bit I won't reveal-- provide ample opportunity for humor, angst, romance, friendship, and rumination on relationships (both friendly and romantic), and what it means to be a good person.

Which sounds pretty abstract, but it's another thing I love about this book. Albert is not always likable. But Yoo carefully balances the line between sympathy and disgust at his main character. The first person narrative allows us to see Albert's actions in a different way than those around him, to see the why. This, coupled with his tainted observations of the world around him and the fact that we know and care about him because of previous thoughts/actions, keeps you rooting for Albert even though you're aware when he's crossing a line.

I know: literary, right? But in a way that so uniquely captures the pressures of the high school social scene (for example, Albert can't merely date Mia-- he has to put himself back into the social radar and try to make nice with Mia's friends... while he even makes some friends of his own), and so hilarious.

So read this book. I'll admit that when it was lent to me, I wasn't all that interested (I mean, Romeo and Juliet?), and then, while I fell in love with the style immediately, I wanted the book to end on page 100, with the cute, happy ending and funny/heartwarming/adorable lead-up to it. But Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before is a completely amazing book from cover to cover.

And remember, if you have a mid-list book that you love, write an original review and shoot me an email. I'll post it and try to help get the word out for mid-list authors we love!

Friday, August 6, 2010

inspiration, and more things i find on the internet

So, once again, I was all gung-ho about posting, before discovering that while the book I was writing about wasn't a bestseller, the author was, and she's going to be just fine. In fact, the book in question already has one sequel published and another in the works.

Which, don't get me wrong, is great. I plan on reading those sequels as soon as I can. I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I have no problem with bestselling books and authors. Don't think I wasn't ecstatic when I discovered that Kiki Strike: Into the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller, my would-be post, had a sequel, or when I saw the new Artemis Fowl book displayed prominently at a Borders, or discovered more books from some of my staple authors on the Barnes and Noble website (and we don't have to get in my love for the Harry Potter books again). In fact, one of my biggest dreams is to be number one on the New York Times bestseller list someday. It's a feat, and an honor, and oft times very deserved.

What's scary is that all that's available for us are bestsellers and new authors, and if those new authors don't cut it on their first books, that could be it. Just as mid-list authors are struggling to keep their careers going (and their stunning books on the shelves for their fans who so desperately love them!), it's becoming harder and harder for new authors to build careers.

I'm rehashing all of this because in my attempt to find a mid-list book I've read and loved to post about (which is getting harder, and harder, and harder), I stumbled across this.

(Personality quiz: did you impulsively click on the link, or patiently wait for my explanation?)

As always, any links I post are the opinions of the authors, but this is definitely an interesting read. Novelist Holly Lisle is starting a publishing company of her own dedicated to the career of the writer. You can read all about it in her post (and here it is again, for you patient people), but it covers what she sees as the problems in the publishing industry (a big one being the decrease of author backlists, which is fully explained in her post), and what she plans to do about it in order to save mid-list authors, and help fledgling authors build the promising careers they deserve.

To me, this is so inspiring. It's wonderful that people are willing to put so much into helping writers, and, in turn, readers, who will have so many more phenomenal authors and books to choose from if the mid-list comes back.

So get inspired! This could mean doing something on your own, getting involved in Holly's project, spreading the word about mid-list authors and your favorite mid-list books, writing your favorite mid-list authors to tell them how much you love their work and seeing what they're doing (author websites are also a great place to see what authors are up to), or simply (plug? perhaps, but well intentioned-- this is my activism, after all) following this blog and encouraging others to do the same. The more who follow, the more people will learn about mid-list authors (and hopefully discover some new books), and perhaps go out and do something-- or at least support their favorite authors by spreading the word and buying their books. So in that same vein, write and email me an original review of your favorite mid-list book, because they're getting harder for me to find! It can be any genre, any style, as long as it's mid-list. I'll post it under a guest reviewer's section.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

july's end of the month bonanza

I know, I know. I've been a terrible blogger lately.

But I've started a new life: from lounging (with the exception of packing, packing, packing) recent college grad with all the time in the world to blog to Real Person. I've moved to NYC (unpacking, unpacking, unpacking), gotten an internship (with books!), and am looking for a job.

Not that my personal life has anything to do with this blog, with the exception that I won't have as much time to dedicate to it.

But I promise, Readers, that I will blog at least a few times a month, reviewing fantastic mid-list books, and posting any relevant news I discover on the subject, because it's so important not to let mid-list authors fall to the wayside. We need to fight for the books we love, and garner interest for mid-list books and authors, because without it, not only will some of our favorite authors not get published (so frustrating when you're in the middle of a series!), but the pool of options we have to read will get smaller and smaller.

So I'm going to do all I can, and you can help! Write an original review of a mid-list book that you love (any genre), and email it to me at doingitwrite@gmail.com. I'll post it under a guest reviewers section. You can also help by following this blog and my twitter (doingitwrite), and encouraging others to do the same, so that a wider audience hears about these awesome books. And, as always, spread the word about the situation and mid-list books and authors that you love!

Meanwhile, it's the end of the month, and you know what that means (no, I'm not referring to Harry Potter's birthday... I may be mildly obsessed, but this is a blog about the books that aren't getting the recognition they deserve, unlike a certain awesome series about a boy who lived). No, it really means that it's time for the end-of-the-month bonanza, which I'm helpfully posting on the end of the month this time.

So here we go...

What it is:
A main way to help mid-list books and authors is publicity, so it's important not to forget books that have already been reviewed, since they still need publicity, and just because they're amazing, enjoyable reads. So in order to remind old readers what great mid-list books are out there, and to make it easy on new readers (because, let's face it, no one's going to take the time to sift through an entire blog all the way to the beginning), I'm going to list every book that's been reviewed on this site, whether by myself or a guest reviewer, at the end of every month.

Here's how it works: I'll categorize the books the best I can, and put the titles under appropriate headings. If that genre interests you, glance at the titles that have been reviewed, and click on the titles if you'd like to read the reviews (which in turn have links to author websites, ways to buy the books, and other fun stuff). In addition, this blog also has info about saving mid-list authors, so I'll categorize and put links to old posts that aren't book reviews, as well.

PLUS, a NEW FEATURE: If you follow me on twitter, you'll notice that I post many book titles there, either that I've read and loved, or want to read. I may not have time to write entire blog posts, but I still want to make sure that people know the array of awesome mid-list books out there. So, because going through my entire twitter would be even more obnoxious than going through my blog (I am so not looking forward to sifting through it myself), I will helpfully list every mid-list book I've ever mentioned on twitter since the beginning of time (or, you know, late May).Though the categories won't be as specific, I'll still categorize them for you, because I'm nice like that. In these lists, the links will go to a page where you can read about and purchase the book, rather than a review.

So have fun browsing an amazing array of books, and spread the word about these and other mid-list books and authors. And remember, if there's a mid-list book you love, shoot me an original review and I'll post it!

Book Reviews:

Funny (YA)

Freshman by Michael Gerber

Going Nowhere Faster by Sean
Beaudoin

Light Fantasy/Mystery/Buddy Novel (with humor) (YA)

The Last Knight by Hilari Bell


Girly Funny (YA)

Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn by Sarah Miller

Confessions of a Not-It Girl
by Melissa Kantor


Light, Humorous, Parody Fantasy (YA)

Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson

The Pig Scrolls by Paul Shipton

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

The Squire's Tales Series by Gerald Morris


Girly Paranormal (YA)

Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore


Crime/Pranks/Plots (YA)

Hacking Harvard
by Robin Wasserman


Girly Crime (YA)

Bad Kitty by Michelle Jaffe


Funny Nonfiction (not YA)

How to Win the World Series of Poker (or Not) by Pat Walsh


Twitter List # 1: Books I've read and loved

YA Funny

All's Fair in Love, War, and High School by Janette Rallison

Fame, Glory, and Other Things on my To-Do List by Janette Rallison

All the Way by Andy Behrens (WAY different than Sex Drive, the film based off the book.)

24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley

Summer Intern by Carrie Karasyov and Jill Kargman

Bittersweet Sixteen by Carrie Karasyov and Jill Kargman

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen by Dyan Sheldon (trust me-- the book is good even though the movie was horrible)

Planet Janet books by Dyan Sheldon

I was a Non-Blonde Cheerleader by Kieran Scott

Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls by Bennett Madison

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway


Unique YA (with some humor)

Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins

Dirty Laundry by Daniel Ehrenhaft

Black Taxi by James Maloney

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfield


YA Fantasy

Bras and Broomsticks by Sarah Mylnowski

Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde

Crown, Sword, and Shield Trilogy
by Hilari Bell

Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell


YA Historical Fiction

Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer


Younger YA Fantasy

The Illmore Chronicles by David Lee Stone

The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme by Elizabeth Hayden


Younger YA Crime

H.I.V.E. (Higher Institute for Villainous Education) by Mark Walden


Younger YA Historical Fiction

Scrib by David Ives


Non-YA Fantasy

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss


Twitter List # 2: Want to Read Lists

YA Fiction

Kissing Vanessa by Simon Cheshire

Cheater by Michael Laser

Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me
by Kristen Chandler

Seth Baumgarther's Love Manifesto by Eric Luper


YA Fantasy

Beastly by Alex Flinn


Non-YA Fiction

Off the Record by Jennifer O'Connell


Non-YA Fantasy

Darkover Novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley


Information about Mid-List Authors and things you can do...

Why the blog, and also chain bookstores' response to the economy, and the effect on mid-list authors (& things you can do)

The power of social networking, publishing, and other things (such as things you can do)

Other threats to mid-list authors (& things you can do)

Why you should browse author websites and blogs (& other things you can do)

Monday, July 26, 2010

what happens in vegas, stays in vegas. like all of your money...

WARNING: While there is nothing offensive about the subject of this book (poker), the style of writing in this book is sometimes not politically correct, and this book contains cursing (including the f-bomb) and biting humor. This review contains potentially offensive quotes to get across the style of the book. I love this book and highly recommend it, but it may not be for everyone, such as young readers.

And now, without further ado, here's a treat and surprise for you all: my first non-YA review. That's right, folks, I actually do read other books... especially if Vegas is involved.

Personally, I'm not a huge gambler, because I'm cheap and sitting at the penny slots isn't the most entertaining thing on the face of the planet (unless your penny slot is by a rocking piano bar-- read: the Times Square Bar in Las Vegas's themed hotel, New York, New York-- or you know... you're winning). But I love Vegas, and I love the idea of gambling, especially at the tables. It's glamorous, exciting, sexy... or not.

Pat Walsh's How to Win the World Series of Poker (or Not) is the funny, true story of the book editor Pat Walsh's attempt to win the game's most prestigious prize. (I couldn't find an author website, but you can read an interview about the book here.) He starts playing for pennies online, and moves up to home games with friends and family, tournaments in a church basement, games in mansions and the back room of a bar, an Indian casino, and, finally, viva Las Vegas itself.

I loved this book for so many reasons, and not just the subject matter. For all I watch movies and TV specials on Sin City, I don't actually know more than the basics of table games. How to Win begins with a prologue that comprehensibly explains Texas Hold 'em in layman's terms, so that even if you knew nothing else about poker beforehand, you can still understand the rest of the book, because the bulk of it is descriptions of specific games and hands.

If I were told that, I would think, "Wow, that sounds boring," but trust me: How to Win is anything but. I had a hard time putting it down.

First of all, there's the charm of the "All American Tale" (also the tag line of the book). Even though you know from the outset (it's in giant letters on the back cover) that Walsh didn't win the World Series of Poker (or even come close), you still root for the everyman who decided to just go for it. I think we all wish we had a little Pat Walsh in us, to complete our biggest dreams no matter how crazy (like the World Series of Poker's $10,000 entry fee) they may seem. So even though the outcome isn't a surprise, there's still plenty of excitement as you root for Paul whether he's playing against family, friends, rich socialites, old men, obnoxious drunks, pleasant strangers, or his own seemingly cursed losing streak. The excitement only grows as he moves up the ladder, getting ever closer to the World Series itself.

That, in a way, is what makes this book glamorous, even though Pat is playing against online competitors for a pot that doesn't even break a ten-spot (that's dollars, not thousands), drunk hecklers, and geriatric old men. The actual World Series, where Pat brushes elbows with poker stars and media celebrities alike, isn't given that much space in the book. It's partially because he doesn't last that long, but also because it's a story about the journey as much as it is about poker.

Also, the simple way Hold 'em is described makes you feel like you could do this. Yes, poker takes a lot of skill, but if you can follow these hands, if you can cheer and groan along with Pat... hey, who knows?

And, of course, the book is hilarious. I laughed out loud several times while reading it, garnering a few looks from strangers on the subway in the process. There are several reasons the book is funny. First, there's the way poker itself is described, turning the explanations from just informative to information with a strong, witty writing style. For example, one of the ten main poker tips is

"5. Capitalize on your opponents' mistakes.
People make mistakes all the time. I, for one, make one about every minute and a half. When you think someone's making a mistake, find a way to translate that into personal profit for you. And not just in poker; do it in life too, like Gandhi" (24).


or, my favorite:

"8. Calculate the odds.
This has something to do with math" (25). (Don't worry... by the end of the book you do have a decent idea of what it takes to calculate the odds, without any boring explanation.)

Secondly, the book is funny because Walsh doesn't care what anyone thinks. He's self-depreciating, he insults who he pleases, and he defies political correctness. It not only provides many laugh-out-loud moments -- "With my newfound wealth and my gigantic poker testicles I decided it was time to hit the real tables. I had been avoiding card clubs and casinos, preferring to cut my teeth on old men, youngsters, and dear friends" (76). It's also different, which is always a plus, and it's freeing and refreshing to not have to tiptoe around others, if only for the duration of the book (yeah, that guy is an asshole! I hope you destroy him at the tables!)

Thirdly, the book is funny because it's not merely re-tellings of certain games. There's a narrative structure, which opens up so many opportunities for humor. Walsh comments on celebrities who play poker, his first experience with the game, how he juggled the game and his family, and the World Series itself, just to name a few. If swearing bothers you, I suggest not reading the following passage, but the commentary gives a good example of the easy, conversational, and laugh-out-loud hilarious voice that narrates the story:

"This was the first year the higher-ups, perhaps mindful of poker's new respectability as family entertainment, banned the use of what they called the F-bomb. The F-bomb is the word fuck-- perhaps you've heard of it? It is a great word, and there are times when, for an exclamatory, no other word will do. What do they expect at a poker table? Someone who gets drawn with runner/runner says fuck and another player at the table will wail Oh, my virgin ears, and faint? This is not a Christian day camp; it is high-stakes poker and it is rated R. If the word fuck bothers you, go play bingo at church" (127).

The above passage should also make it clear that the narrative structure is great for other reasons, too: it makes the book a faster, smoother, more enjoyable read, because it reads more like a novel than anything. In spite of the focus on specific games, hands, and strategies, it truly is a story about one man's ambitious, crazy, exciting dream, and his thoughts along the way.

So if you love poker, I highly recommend this fun, unique, addicting book. And if you don't love poker, I highly recommend this fun, unique, addicting book. Who knows-- you might just pick up a new hobby. Or not.

And remember, if there's a mid-list book that you love, write a review and email it me at doingitwrite@gmail.com. I'll post it under a guest reviewers section. We can work to save mid-list authors!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

who needs goals, anyway?

Life after high school is a confusing time for everyone, but especially for Stan Smith, whose uninteresting name matches his uninteresting life. A former child prodigy with an IQ of 165, recent graduate Stan has no direction — or car, or girl, or even chance at college, because he never applied. He’s perfectly content (with a few nagging doubts about wasted potential, voiced by numerous adults around him) to work at his underpaid, dead-end job as a cashier in his town’s only video store, hang out with his cool best (and only) friend, and work on his clich├ęd screenplays while he figures out what to do with his life.

What I love about Sean Beaudoin’s Going Nowhere Faster is that, in spite of some entertaining action — Stan’s love for a girl named Ellen, his crazy hippy parents, and his conviction that Ellen’s menacing ex-boyfriend, Chad, is out to kill him after a mishap with a firecracker and Chad’s locker — Going Nowhere Faster doesn’t have the most driving plot in the world. It’s different in a refreshing way, and it fits with the book. After all, Stan is “going nowhere,” and the plot reflects that. But don’t take that to mean that the book has no plot points (see Ellen, crazy hippy parents, Chad, and Stan’s cool best friend, Miles), or that the book is pointless. Going Nowhere Faster hits on that post-high school time perfectly, where everyone’s trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do with their lives. And Stan’s life shows that potential doesn’t always equal opportunity — a point not usually touched upon in upbeat YA books. So Stan’s story has many poignant moments about finding oneself and shaping that terrifying The Rest of Your Life… all amidst wacky scenarios, humor, and a lot of sarcasm.

If you’ve read the rest of my reviews, you had to be expecting it, and it’s true: Going Nowhere Faster is also hilarious. Jaded Stan, the “special” kid who amounted to nothing, is sarcastic, neurotic, and hypercritical, resulting in sharp, funny first-person prose. Yet in spite of his neuroses, he’s still completely amusing, sympathetic, and likable. He has a caring relationship with his little sister, and his friendship with Miles is honest and enduring when a girl comes between them. It’s not just the prose that’s comical, however. The situations Stan finds himself in (like the death threats) are off-the-wall and sometimes unrealistic, but all the funnier for it.

So join Stan on his crazy-yet-dull, confusing, neurotic life post-high school as he tries to find, a plot, a girl, a screenplay, a journey. You’ll be glad you did.

And remember: if there’s a mid-list book you love, write an original review and shoot me an email at doingitwrite@gmail.com and I’ll post it under a “guest reviewers” section. And as always, spread the word to help save mid-list authors!

Monday, July 5, 2010

because a rectangle book is so much sweeter than a round table

King Arthur's Round Table is infamous.

The supposedly equal people Arthur sat with at that table? Not so much.

But Gerald Morris's The Squire's Tale series puts everyone in the spotlight: knights, ladies, faeries, and, of course, squires.

The series begins with The Squire's Tale and is currently composed of nine books, with the tenth and final book slated to come out this year. Currently, I've only read the first eight, and I'm both excited and sad to read the final two: they're excellent reads, but I hate to see a series I love end.

Though, with the risks facing many mid-list authors, I'm just grateful that I do get to find out what happens.

Unlike many series', The Squire's Tale books don't focus solely on one or two characters. Terence (crush # 1... crush # 2 is Rhience from the seventh book, Lioness and Her Knight. I really have a problem) is Sir Gawain's squire, and the two of them are the main focus in the first two books (The Squire's Tale and The Squire, the Knight, and His Lady, respectively). They then make cameo appearances in almost all of the other books, which focus on various members of King Arthur's court, or those trying to become a member of court, such as a bumbling, would-be knight or a saucy damsel in distress who decides to save herself.

Each of the books is based off of an Arthurian legend, with tweaks and invented characters as necessary. Yet the language is modern and the plots fast-paced, making the stories smooth, fast reads.

And also incredibly fun reads. Morris' books are filled with humor, which manifests itself both in witty banter and bizarre scenarios, such as a cantankerous, unskilled knight who forces everyone who passes into a fight, no matter how uninterested (or talented) they may be. The characterization is also strong, with strong, funny, and multi-faceted protagonists who just try to do what's right amidst the danger, drama, intrigue, and absurdities of both Arthur's world and the adjacent faery world. Additionally, in spite of the patriarchal structure of the time period, which Morris portrays, both male and female characters are self-empowered, making the romantic sub-plots satisfying connections between equals.

In spite of being light, funny reads with modern language, though, the books are serious at the proper moments, and still manage to get across the impression of a very different time-- a time when the golden rule is chivalry, courtly love reigns, and knights just hang around court until there's a quest to be completed. As different as it is from our own, however, Morris' world is fully realized, immersing readers into both medieval life and a place where magic, both faery and otherwise, (with sometimes serious, sometimes hilarious results) is very active.

So if you enjoy humor, adventure, light fantasy, intrigue, mystery, romance, ya books, or Arthurian legend, join Terence on his first quest in A Squire's Tale, as he leaves his sheltered adolescence (literally-- he lives with a hermit in the woods) for the exciting world of quests, court, knights, and magic. Trust me, once you read the first book, you'll have to read them all.

And remember, spreading the word about mid-list authors and their books is important, so if there's a mid-list book or series that you love, write an original review and email me at doingitwrite@gmail.com. I'll post it under a "guest reviewers" section.