Autumn Book Recommendations

Even though summer is scheduled to reappear for one weekend and one weekend only, autumn has finally engulfed Switzerland. With the season comes the perfect time to relax at home with a good book. So today, following my posts for summer and August, it’s time for my Autumn book recommendations. The books featured here definitely rank among my top ten for the year, so they’ll probably pop up again on this site come December.

I’ll start off with my favorite book of the year: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider.

2013-10-16 19.17.44The book follows Ezra Faulkner, a cool and popular High School student, who gets his leg shattered in a car accident after his girlfriend cheats on him. Unable to continue as the captain of the tennis team, he feels he doesn’t belong with his old friends among the “jocks” anymore. So he reconnects with his old friend Toby and meets his group of outcasts and misfits. And then there’s Cassidy, the mysterious new girl he can’t help but fall for…

The Beginning of Everything is a wonderfully told coming-of-age story with real characters. Unlike many YA books and series, where characters can be firmly placed among the “jocks” and “nerds”, it’s refreshing to see a character who fits in in both worlds. I liked the description of Ezra’s old tennis friends as superficial and arrogant, but ultimately they’re not bad kids. And it was refreshing to see that there are also mean kids among “nerds”, who are often portrayed as so pure and awesome in books. Cassidy, his love interest, is definitely among the best manic pixie dream girls in YA fiction. She’s intelligent, kind, daring and you never know what exactly is going on with her. I loved every page of this book and couldn’t put it down. I can only recommend it to anyone who loves coming-of-age novels.

My second recommendation comes from a totally different genre: Night Film by Marisha Pessl.

I don’t read many thrillers. In fact, the last thrillers I’ve read were probably the books by Dan Brown and that was before they were made into movies. But Night Film is an unbelievable page-turner.

Ashley Cordova, the daughter of the reclusive horror filmmaker Stanilas Cordova is found dead after an apparent suicide. Investigative reporter Scott McGrath, whose initial foray into the life of the famed director led to him ruining his career, feels there might be more to the death than appears. With the help of Hopper, who met Ashley as a teenager and Nora, one of the many girls living in NYC with dreams of making it big, he begins to uncover the secrets of the Cordova family.

Ms. Pessl has created a superb book. It’s fast-paced, extremely gripping and full of unexpected twists. Unique to Night Film is it’s use of internet webpage screenshots. They’re full of articles about Cordova, which let the reader feel like they’re participating in the hunt for the truth. The characters are easy to root for and extremely multi-dimensional. The most special of them all is Ashley Cordova, whose life is tragic and haunting. Wanting to find out more about her and what role her family played in her suicide, pushes the book forward and makes Night Film a fantastic ride.

The next book I’m recommending is the last book I read: A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Harpin

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First off, I don’t think this book is as good as the other books mentioned in this post. I would say, the first two are five-star books, while this one is a typical 3-star for most people, but 4-star for me book.

Justin and Emmy are the new kids at Heartland academy, a reform high school where kids are sent to get better. School in the morning, Therapy in the afternon. In their Anger Management session, they meet a diverse group of teenagers. Together, they just want to find a way to enjoy life again. After all, living takes a lot more guts than giving up.

A Really Awesome Mess is a surprisingly light-hearted and highly sarcastic book, considering the characters’ problems. However, it focuses on giving the teenagers a positive outlook. It does a decent job of showing the struggles the characters are going through. However, for some readers, it might not be enough. I can understand if readers think some of progression feels too easy. But all in all, I think the authors found a balance between their heavier themes and their hilarious ideas.

The book is also full of Harry Potter references, which I obviously enjoyed a lot. My favorite scene was a game they play, talking about which house they’d belong to. Slytherin, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw all get some love, but the seriously underrated House Hufflepuff never gets mentioned (but yeah, for those wondering, I’m still a Gryffindor).

Also highly recommended are the new books from two of the most imaginative authors around. Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of Lane” is a fantastical and quiet book, full of brilliant descriptions and understated action. Patrick Ness’ “More Than This” is a unique blend of afterlife experience, survival scenario and dystopian thriller, which leaves readers wanting for more. I’ll definitely talk about them more in a future post, but I didn’t include them here because I’ve written about them in my recent posts.

On Friday, my post will feature one of the new projects I’m taking part in: collaborative fiction. So stay tuned!

Until then, please like, share and subscribe.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

The Hunger Games Trilogy

In the week before the new semester started, I took my time to devour as many books as possible, knowing I wouldn’t have that much time with school duties looming on the horizon. After putting off seeing the movie until I read the book, it was finally time for me to jump on the Hunger Games hype train and see what it’s all about. I read all three books over the weekend and I wasn’t disappointed at all. It is a fantastic, breathtaking trilogy.

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In the first book, North America has been turned into a state with an all-controlling and tyrannical Capitol with twelve districts surrounding it. In a bloody civil war, the thirteenth district was obliterated and the twelve districts forced to cater to the wishes of the capital city. As a punishment, every district is forced to send a boy and a girl to participate in “Hunger Games”, a winner-takes-it-all killing competition for the entertainment of the ruling class. In the poor mining District 12, 16-year old Katniss Everdeen, the narrator of the story, volunteers in place of her younger sister. The teenager is a rebellious, troubled, headstrong and intelligent girl with a terrific will to live. She leaves the closed-off district to hunt with her best friend, Gale. Chosen as a tribute with her is the baker’s son Peeta, who has harbored a lifelong crush on Katniss. The first part of the book does very well in establishing the world and the character and relationships of the teenage girl. It then takes off when the two arrive in the Capitol and the games actually begin. You’ll have to read the books or watch the movie to find out what exactly happens next. The first movie was released a year ago and Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence will reprise her iconic role as Katniss this November in “Catching Fire”.

I don’t want to spoil any of the events in books two or three, so I’ll instead talk about some of the points I really enjoyed about the trilogy. The supporting characters were very diverse and interesting.  At first it is very hard to gauge (for Katniss and the reader) if the characters are trustworthy or not. But each of them has their own interesting ways and is fascinating to read about. Personally, in the first book I loved Cinna, the stylist during the Games and Haymitch, Katniss’ and Peeta’s mentor. In the second and third book, Finnick and Boggs were personalities who enriched the story in many ways.

Ms Collins attempts to show many issues in her book and it carries a strong anti-war message. She shows how the oppressed can turn into oppressors as soon as the table turns. The books also are a very extreme version of how reality TV could look in the future. Regular viewers will notice scenes resembling the scripted scenes of today.

Of course, a central in the books is the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, which has led to much discussion among the young (female) fans of the series. I must say I very much enjoyed the portrayal of her conundrum, even though I felt it got a touch repetitive in the second book. I personally liked the resolution of the triangle in the third book, but it did feel a bit rushed.

All in all, the Hunger Games Trilogy is a fantastic series and should be read by any fan of Young Adult Fiction, dystopian and fantasy novels, as it is imaginative, fast-paced and suspenseful. After Chaos Walking, it’s the second-best trilogy I read this year.

What do you think about the Hunger Games? Have you read and enjoyed the books or movies? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Prologue: An Excerpt

This week, chapter 15 of “An Elusive Hero” was scheduled to be released. However, I’m not yet satisfied with what I wrote this week and need extra time to edit the chapter so it fits with the overall narrative of my story. I’m very sorry to postpone the next chapter to next Friday! In the mean time, you can catch up with the first 14 chapters on this page.

But since I don’t want to break the chain, I’ve decided to post a scene from another story I’m writing at the moment. It’s only the beginning, but I’m always grateful for any kind of feedback!

Prologue

Everyone always says that people should reach for the stars in our future; aspire to be astronauts, athletes or accountants. And some already knew exactly which path they would walk down. Go to a prestigious university, study business, law or engineering, go abroad for a semester, get an internship at a multinational, graduate with honors, work for a year, get a masters degree, enter the good life. For Alex, the situation wasn’t as clear. He had no idea where his path would lead him. At the moment, the young man was enjoying a carefree night in a little village on the famed gold coast of Zurich, Switzerland. The gold coast got its name due to its sun-soaked location, but detractors also like to pinpoint the absurdly high number of millionaires living in the suburbs of the financial center of Switzerland. Alex and his friends had all grown up on these shores; some of them were just normal average kids, while some had grown up to be little spoiled brats. Or maybe they were always brats, but only started to show it with the age.

On this particular evening they were celebrating the end of their high school careers. His whole class had gathered on this majestic lawn, surrounding a hastily and dangerously built bonfire for one last night of careless fun. After this night, each of them would leave our common path to embark on his or her own personal journey to happiness. Some of the guys were going to start their military service; the brightest prodigy was on her way to Harvard, while others had chosen the easy way of enrolling at the nearby University of Zurich.

His three best friends Dino, Chris and Matt were sitting next to Alex, passing around an awful mix of cheap whiskey and cola, loudly discussing the latest season of Premier League football. Chris was an avid Manchester United fan, Matt supported Chelsea and Dino shared Alex’s ill-fated love for Arsenal London, which he had inherited from his father. He loved all forms of sports, but had to give up most of aspirations after tearing his ACL during a recreational league game at age 16. The knee hadn’t felt the same after. Luckily, he had been able to keep his slim and athletic build.

He lay on the grass, staring up at the stars and trying hard to shut out all outside noise. Maybe the stars would predict which way he needed to go next. A tiny red light moved steadily through the bright white spots and Alex followed it with his eyes. At first, he thought it was a shooting star, sent to this exact moment to fulfill all of his many wishes. But soon enough, he noticed it was one of the airplanes passing over the country.

Alex sighed quietly and closed his eyes. The stars wouldn’t fulfill his dreams, but little did he know that the answer to all his questions had just stepped off a flight to nearby Zurich airport.

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I hope you enjoyed this little prologue. Sorry again for not being able to deliver on chapter 15. Please like, share and subscribe and of course have a great weekend!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

August reading recommendations

A few months ago, I published my tips for summer reading and I can say I have progressed quite a bit through the books I wanted to read finishing A Clash of Kings by George R.R Martin and the Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman. I haven’t gotten very far on my non-fiction reading, because the world of fiction will not let me go. Currently I’m reading A Player of Games by Iain M. Banks and the Unwritten Series of graphic novels written by Mike Carey and drawn by Peter Gross. But every time I stop by my favorite bookshop, other books catch my attention, pushing some of my picks further down the to-do list. I decided to recommend some of the books <I read the last month.

Continue reading

Six books for summer reading!

Summer’s here! Or so it should be. After showing a glimpse of its power on Monday, the sun has retreated back behind the safety of the clouds, leaving Switzerland longing for warmer days to come. But hope for sunnier days shouldn’t be abandoned. When summer finally arrives, one of finer pleasures of life is to take a book to your neighborhood park, the municipal swimming pool or the trendy café right down the road. And should the sun decide to skip town completely this year, holing up with a good book and cup of tea can at least take your mind to far-away places. My obsession of the week are the following reads I’d recommend to you for your summer reading!

I’ve made reading books a priority again since the beginning of the year, devouring them on my daily commute and on lazy days after going through a reading draught during my college days. I’d like to share some of the most interesting books I’ve read in the last months with you. Since I don’t work for a book shop or publisher, I don’t know which of the new releases will be great, so most of these stories have been on the market for a while. But that shouldn’t keep you from checking them out!

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The books I loved most this year were The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men, the three books forming the Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness. Set on “New World” in the distant future, it details the story of a boy and a girl trying to survive on a planet where no thought is a secret. Officially, it’s a young adult novel, but that shouldn’t deter you from picking it up as it is inventive, fast-paced and always unpredictable. Covering the journey of Todd and Viola from the little village they first meet to the biggest city of the New World, the two main characters find themselves fighting off enemies seemingly unbeatable. But together, they represent hope and the future of a damaged world. Mr Ness manages to incude an irrestible urge to find out if and how they will succeed. It is one of those books you can’t put down once you’ve started. Like when watching an addicting tv series, I found myself thinking “one more chapter” more than once. While many trilogies start out with their strongest effort, this one just seems to get better with every page.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

What happens when all goes wrong? This novel follows a year in the life at a small American college obsessed with baseball. The main protagonist is a young baseball prospect excelling at his sport and bringing glory to his college and his friends. Until one day, his confidence is shaken by his first mistake. The following downward spiral not only affects him, but also the whole cosmos on campus. Well-written and full of likeable characters, relationships take central stage in this book. Relationships between friends, father and daughter and of romantic nature are all explored at considerable depth, held together by the background of college life and baseball season.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This is a book at the same time terribly sad and undeniably uplifting. The love story of teenagers Hazel and Augustus is full of tender moments, unexpected drama and never-ending hope. Their lives are complicated by the fact that both of them are battling or have battled cancer. While all the major characters are always aware of the fate that might await them, they are not deterred by this predicament. After meeting Augustus, Hazel learns to tackle life with youthful energy and renewed optimism. The story blends feelings of melancholy and episode of seriousness with the sweetness of love and passages of fantastic humor. It is a novel about life and making the best of the hand you’ve been dealt. I can say that it is probably the most inspiring piece of writing I’ve come across this year.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One tells the story of a future where in 2044 the real world has broken down due to wars and humanity flees into a virtual space called OASIS.  Wade Owens is one of many searching for a golden egg promising incredible wealth and fame. The prize however is hidden anywhere in the virtual world making the search comparable to looking for a needle in a haystack. Luckily, OASIS’ creator James Halliday left behind a riddle for the world to solve. As he adored the eighties, the riddle is filled with pop culture references from the decade I was lucky enough to be born in. Wade takes it upon him to solve the riddle, which proves to be the first of many challenges to overcome. While the modern and virtual world is imagined with a lot of care, it really is these inside jokes and easter eggs which breathe life into the book. A great read for everyone who (like me) has nerdy passions as movies, video games and 80’s music.

Extra: My personal summer reading list

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Book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire

I’ve already read the books above, so what will I be reading this summer? At the moment I’m reading the second book of the “A Song ofIce and Fire” series by George R.R Martin (probably better known as Game of Thrones nowadays) and planning on starting to delve into the artistic world of graphic novels with the Sandman series. Continuing my quest of going through Neil Gaiman books, I’m also looking forward to his newest work coming out in two weeks “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”. Non-fiction books on my to-read shelf include “The Signal and the Noise” by Nate Silver and the biography of Theodore Roosevelt written by Edmund Morris. As these books shouldn’t last me through summer, I’d be glad to hear your ideas and recommendations in the comments!

If you enjoy my writing, I’d be grateful if you share my blog with your friends or connect with me on Twitter! I’d love to hear feedback from you.

See you on Friday with chapter 5 of “An elusive hero”!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Obsession of the Week: Harry Potter

This week’s installment of obsession of the week is about Harry Potter.

When thinking about today’s segment, I first wanted to talk about BBC’s Sherlock, which I binge-watched over the last two weekends or John Green’s novels which I have been reading back-to-back the last month. However, since my ability to write is also based on the confidence I have in my knowledge of the topic, I didn’t feel quite as comfortable writing about these topics. So I chose a topic I’ll probably spend the rest of my life being passionate about: Harry Potter.

This weekend I was looking through my bookshelf in an attempt to get it organized. And of course I came across Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (my favorite book of the series). I told myself I would just read a few pages to see if I still liked it as much. Now I’m again more than halfway through the tale without the ability to stop before I finish.

I love the Harry Potter books. They hold a special place in my heart and will forever be my favorite books. I can say this with a decent amount of certainty not because I find the quality of writing to be exquisite and out of this world (even though I enjoy it a lot). It is because of The memories of the moments I spent as a child pretending to be a wizard, reading unofficial encyclopedias trying to find out what will happen in book 5 or working on my own Harry Potter websites as a 12-year old. They will always bring a smile to my face.

What fascinated me most about the series was the great amount of themes it covers. It is a coming-of-age novel set in one of the most imaginative worlds I have seen to date. Similar to the old Star Wars movies it is an epic tale of love conquering hate. Even in the darkest moments it has a message of positivity and hope. I believe this to be Harry Potter’s most powerful quality. Reading the books always left me with the feeling that in the end everything will turn out well. That if you believe in yourself and your friends; if you trust the wisdom of your elders while defying authority from time to time, you will succeed.

The Harry Potter series inspired me to get into creating content for the internet. I was eleven or twelve years old when my best friend and I created a makeshift Harry Potter fan website. Our plan was to let members take a test, sort them into houses and provide schooling in spells and arts to hand out points. It worked out well for a few months before we lost interest and moved on to making a website about gaming. We stopped working on that project when I moved to Germany. Now, a decade later, here I am again, writing about Harry Potter on the internet. It just shows how much of an inspiration the series was for me. And how I haven’t changed that much from when I was a kid!

I’ve always read the series in German as well as in English. The year 2007 was a big year for me. That February, I turned 18 and celebrated with a huge party; in June, I graduated from High School; in July, I started my mandatory military service which I completed in November. A lot of life-changing events happened to me that year. But one event I remember as clearly as the aforementioned milestones was the release of the German version “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”. Standing in the bookshop at midnight with hundreds of other fans filled me with the dreaded sense that my childhood was drawing to a close. It felt as if a whole generation of kids was being pushed into independence and into a new phase of their lives. Harry, Ron and Hermione had taken me with them on their adventure and my own journey was about to begin in earnest.

As you have noticed, I haven’t written much about what happens in the books, but more about how the books had a profound influence on who I am today. Of course, there are many more books which have shaped my view of the worlds and in due time, I might also write about them. But none have had such a profound impact on me as the Harry Potter series.

I do not want to spoil anything. I believe anyone interested in reading or modern pop culture should read the Harry Potter series. I also love to discuss the books, so just let me know if you’d like to talk about them in further detail (even if you disagree with everything I just wrote!).

You can leave your thoughts in the comments section, by e-mail or on twitter @AlbertGubler. If you’d like to support me and my writing, please subscribe on the right hand side and share this blog with friends! Check back Friday for chapter 3 of my story “An elusive hero”.

Sincerely yours,

Albert

PS: If you want to connect with me on Pottermore, my username is KeySword174 and I’m in house Gryffindor!