Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Winner

Congrats to Janelle Ashton, winner of the Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop. Janelle, you will receive a $20 gift voucher to Chapters or Amazon, to purchase the book of your choice – maybe one of the fabulous fantasy books recommended by readers.

Thanks to everyone who participated!


Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer.

In a blog hop, participating blogs sign up to offer contests and giveaways for a limited time period.

Between June 21 and 24, 2011, one lucky “One Book Per Week” reader will win a $20 book store gift card. If you’re a local (Halifax, Nova Scotia) it will be from the independent bookstore of your choice. If from further afield, an e-voucher  from Amazon or Chapters. Open to readers in Canada, the US  and the UK only.

Midsummer’s Eve usually puts me in the mood for a fantasy novel. Right now I am reading book three of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.

For your chance to win, leave a comment below recommending your favourite fantasy novel or series. I am always looking for new reading ideas. For an extra entry, follow the blog, by email or RSS, and indicate this in your comment.

Thanks, and don’t forget to check out the fabulous giveaways from other participating blogs, see the full list at www.iamareadernotawriter.blogspot.com.

Game of Thrones by George R R Martin

In a world where summers and winters stretch years at a time, trees have faces, races of men have disappeared, while races of wolves thought dead have reappeared, the king is dead, and the men, women and children left in Westeros struggle to place the right man on the Iron Throne.

Game of Thrones opens with a sinister prologue, as members of the Night Watch are attacked in the haunted forest by the undead others, and soon after [note: in this sprawling epic, soon is about 150 pages later] King Robert’s death leaves the kingdom in shambles.

Ned Stark, his five true-born children and his bastard son are key players in this first volume of the fantasy saga: A Song of  Ice and Fire. Also vying for power are the Lannisters, whose family are the first to claim the throne, the Targaryens, King and Princess overseas, plus a host of knights, soldiers and the wildlings from beyond the wall.

Game of Thrones is no chaste Lord-of-the-Rings-style fantasy. Sex abounds, and the more deviant, the better. Children as young as twelve are fair game. Rape is everywhere. Yes, rape and war go hand in hand, but in Martin’s mind, there’s barely a man who wouldn’t do it, and more than a few women who are OK with it, provided the women taken are not highborn, of course. [Oh, for the day there is a fantasy series written with lots of good sex in it! Perhaps I will have to write it myself.]

Those two complaints aside (and the fact that the writing is far to wordy, and the books could easily be half as long, and all the better for it) I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and am already on to the next in the series. Martin has created fascinating characters and an intricate storyline, and I will forgive many technical errors for this.

I was thrilled to find a new fantasy series with a reasonably unique  setting and plot. There is no “dark one” and no epic battle between good and evil. No King Arthur or comparable patriarch. No Christian vs. pagan parallel (though old gods/new gods/god of light are close). Just men being men, women (where permitted) being women, and everyone despite their best intentions, drawing their world closer to destruction with every step. And the beasts. I do love the beasts. Krakens. Direwolves. Dragons. Even the eagles and the crows have a role to play.

While the humans play their game of thrones, the Others are waiting. Keep fighting over your castles, fools. They will take everything else.

Mass Market Paperback: 831 pages

Publisher: Bantam; REP edition (Aug 4 1997)

ISBN-10: 0553573403

ISBN-13: 978-0553573404

Pluto’s Ghost by Sheree Fitch

I have a bad habit of picking inappropriate airplane books. Which inevitably leads to me crying in front of 300 strangers (as happened when reading Come Thou, Tortoise). Saturday morning, I flew to Austin, TX for work. (What a city! Had a fantastic time.) I had my Kobo packed and so lots to choose from, but also recently bought a good old-fashioned hard copy of Sheree Fitch’s new young adult novel Pluto’s Ghost, so I threw that into my bag at the last minute.

Pluto’s Ghost is the story of Jake Upshore, a troubled teen from a small Nova Scotia town. He lost his mother at a very young age. He is dyslexic and struggles at school. He has suffered with substance abuse and has had more than one run-in with the law. He is occasionally violent with an unruly and explosive temper.

But Jake is so much more than his bad reputation. He is desperately trying to improve himself. He is in therapy and overcoming his addictions, having been clean for six months. He is a songwriter and a poet. He studies martial arts with a teacher, one of his mother’s old friends. He started his own landscaping business. He is in love with longtime friend Skye Derucci, but even this relationship brings limited joy as Skye insists on keeping the relationship secret – she says this is because of her overprotective policeman-father, but Jake is pretty sure it is because she’s ashamed of him.

The novel opens with Jake being handcuffed and shoved into the back seat of a police car in Halifax.

“Everything that’s happened is because of Skye. I’m not blaming. I’m just saying. I’m telling this tale because of Skye and the only reason I was starting to think my pathetic life wasn’t such a crock of shit after all was because of Skye. “

How did he get there? It started with Skye’s disappearance, and the rumour that she was pregnant and running off to Halifax for an abortion. Not quite sure what he wants her to do, Jake is hurt that she didn’t turn to him, and decides to follow her to the city.

“I’m not complainin’
I’m just explainin’
I’m not excusin’
But see
I thought I was losin’
my baby
my lady
my mind.”

Thus begins a terrible 48 hours filled with poor decisions, terrible choices and bad, bad luck. Rumours continue to swirl, as they will in a small town, and your heart breaks right along with Jake’s as you wonder: is she pregnant? Is the baby even Jake’s? Why won’t she answer her phone?

The novel is written in Jake’s voice. His therapist and teachers encourage him to tell his story, both to help deal with the trauma and to earn the final credits needed to graduate high school. Most mentions of teenage pregnancy in novels are from the perspective of the mother, but Pluto’s Ghost allows you to see it from the other side. While Jake knows and accepts that the choice in the end lies with Skye, he desperately wants to be involved. He wants to believe that his voice matters. He just wants to be asked, and have a chance to state his opinion and show his support.

In true Fitch style, Pluto’s Ghost reads like a poem. Using songs, poems, word tricks and more, Fitch writes the novel in the voice of an angry, dyslexic and extremely sensitive boy. She takes you inside the troubled mind of a confused young teenager as he deals with pregnancy, loneliness and addiction, and the kind of desperate love only an 18-year-old can feel.

To anyone who has ever fallen in love with an 18-year-old bad-ass (which is pretty much everyone I know: You will fall in love with Jake Upshore. You will want to hold him, kiss his forehead, run your hands through his hair, and make everything better. But he won’t let you. That’s not what he does, and that’s not how it works.  Pluto’s Ghost will touch you, shock you and knock the wind out of you with its final scenes. And as mentioned, you may cry on a plane full of strangers.

“Murderer. It’s one kick in the belly of a word isn’t it? Has a taste, too. It tastes like barbed wire and has wild hyena eyes. Murderer. Murder-her. Did he? Did I? That’s when I remember what I want to forget.”

Paperback: 256 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada (September 28, 2010)

ISBN-10: 0385665903

ISBN-13: 978-0385665902


Delirium by Lauren Oliver

After enduring finishing Moby Dick last week, I needed some book candy to refresh my mind, and so took to the Kobo and downloaded Delirium, a book that had caught my eye in a Goodreads thread back in February.

Once again, I turn to dystopian fiction to cheer me up. I don’t want to think about what this could say about me.

The premise of the book captured me within milliseconds of reading the plot summary. In Delirium, the United States has declared love (or amor deliria nervosa) a disease, and outlawed it. (Think about the problems it causes – who hasn’t wanted to rip their heart out of their chest and “never love again” at least once?)

All citizens must receive the lobotomy-like cure at the age of eighteen, and settle into practical, passion-free lives with their state appointed life partners.

Schools are segregated. Socializing between the sexes is strictly forbidden among the uncured. Music and books are censored. There is no mention or celebration of love. Romeo and Juliet is taught in the schools not as a romance, but as a cautionary tale.

Borders are closed. No one enters or leaves the country. Everyone lives in approved cities – except the Invalids, who oppose the state and live in the Wilds. Of course, no one talks openly about the Invalids, and the state tries to pretend they don’t actually exist.

Our main character is Lena, about to graduate high school and counting the days till she is cured and matched. Her mother succumbed to ‘he disease many year ago, and eventually committed suicide. Lena has been living under that shadow for many years. She looks forward to a happier life without the risk of falling in love.

And then she meets Alex. And becomes infected.

Suddenly, Lena’s world is turned upside down. All the truths she ever accepted have been challenged. Her memories of her mother, and the laughs, cuddles and songs they shared behind closed doors and curtains all have new meaning. Lena begins to rebel against the society she so recently embraced. She no longer wants to be ‘cured’ and desperately wants to avoid the good match she so longed for.

I enjoyed reading Delirium; I couldn’t put it down. Though it started a bit slow, I was soon fascinated by Lena’s relationships with Hana (her best friend) and Grace (her mute younger cousin). Later, I fell in love with Alex just as Lena did, and grieved her mother through her memories. On the surface, the story was intoxicating.

Just below the surface… not so much. Reading any dystopia requires accepting certain assumptions that may be more or less farfetched, but for it to work they have to at least be plausible. While I loved the IDEA of a world where love was declared a disease, Oliver didn’t sell it well enough. I couldn’t understand how or why this had happened. How did an entire country buy into it? Was there a major catastrophe that led to drastic measures? Did a dictator take over and impose his/her will on the country? We don’t know. Add this to the fact that it seems to be set in the not-too-distant future, and I was left thinking things could not have changed so dramatically, so fast.

Also, and maybe this is just another sign of me getting old, but the romance between Lena and Alex wasn’t convincing enough. I can see why they eventually fell for one another, but the instant connection did not convince me, and I don’t see how she could already love him enough to want to abandon her family, friends and life to be with him. I can write it all off to the intensity of teenage love, but that’s a cop-out. I want to be convinced.

Delirium is the first book of a planned trilogy tracing Lena’s adventures in this love-free world. Despite some holes in the plot, I love the idea, and enjoyed the story enough that I anticipate reading more. Perhaps some of what’s missing will be revealed in later novels.

Hardcover: 448 pages

Publisher: HarperCollins (February 1, 2011)

ISBN-10: 0061726826

ISBN-13: 978-0061726828