Monday, July 29, 2013

Fido and Friend in Five: Annemarie, Zola and Zar!

Annemarie O'Brien
Tim Jessel's gorgeous cover!
Annemarie O'Brien and I go way back on the long, and sometimes, arduous road to publication. We first met around 2006 at Nancy Sondel's amazing Pacific Coast Children's Workshop, one of the very few writer's conferences just for folks who write fiction for middle grader's and teens. Neither of us had published--yet. She was deep into Vermont College's
 Master's program in writing for children and young adults; I had just written my first novel, The Ring, and was impatient to get published. We met several times again at Nancy's PCCW. While I railed against the rules and difficulties of getting an agent, much less an editor, Annemarie patiently worked and refined her skills and manuscript.

And now here we are! Annemarie's debut novel, Lara's Gift, will hit the bookstores on August 6th, and my humble little blog is the first stop in her blog tour! As she said, it just seems fitting.

Lara's Gift is a beautifully crafted story set in Imperial Russia about the love and devotion between a young girl and her dog. And this is not just any dog: Zar is a borzoi, the hunting dogs of the Tsar himself. Lara is being groomed to do what her family has done for generations: run Count Vorontsov's kennel which provides these stately and noble dogs to the Tsar. The borzois and Lara have a special connection, one that both frightens her and makes her proud, a gift that her father views as an abomination. Will Lara be able to convince her father it is her destiny to run the kennel? Will she be able to convince him that even though Zar is the runt of the litter, he has the courage and heart worthy of a Tsar? The ever-stingy Kirkus reviews gave Lara's Gift a starred review, describing the book as "engrossing and powerful."

Annemarie is able to write so convincingly about Russia and borzois in Lara's Gift because she once lived and worked in the former Soviet Union, and she shares her life with two borzoi, Zola and Zar. Let's kick off Annemarie's blog tour with this very special Fido and Friend in Five!

1. How did you and your dogs find each other?  Both of my borzoi, Zola and Zar, are rescues through their respective breeders. They inspired the fictional characters in Lara's Gift. We found Zeus,
Zola & Zar
our silken windbound (best described as a miniature borzoi) from breeder Cynthia Dell. I fell in love with borzoi when I was gifted a puppy in Moscow where I worked after graduate school. Dasha was like no other dog I'd ever had. I grew up with spaniels and retrievers who wanted to be everyone's pal. Dasha was selective in the people she allowed to pat her on the head, so she made me feel special.

Let's run Mom!
2. What makes Zola and Zar's tails wag?  The leash, my running shoes, and of course, a meat bone!

3. If your dogs could change just one thing about you, what would that be?  That's an easy question. If they could, I'm sure they would snap their paws and make me an instant lottery winner so I wouldn't have to work so much and could take them for more runs!

4. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  This one is hard because there are so many. But I guess I'd have to go back to my kid days and say Lassie Come-Home, Lady and the Tramp, or 101 Dalmations. 
Breed of the Tsars

5. In just five words, tell us what Zola and Zar mean to you:  Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.

Love. Love. Love
Okay, so I know after you read this, you're just chomping at the bit to read LARA'S GIFT! So here's your chance to win a free, signed copy! All you need to do to enter a drawing to win a signed copy is leave a comment below and share this post on your fav social media site! Could it be any easier? I'll draw the winning name on August 15th. 

For more opportunities to win a copy of LARA’S GIFT and/or a manuscript critique by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor, check out these blogs on these dates: Fiction Notes (7/31); Kissing the Earth, Quirk and Quill, or Simple Saturday (8/1); Coffee with a Canine, Dog Reads, or World Reads (8/5); Dear Editor (8/6); Word Spelunking (8/7); Random Acts of Reading (8/8); The Hiding Spot (8/9); Beth Fish Reads (8/13); and Sarah Davies’s blog at Greenhouse Literary (TBD).

For more information about LARA’S GIFT, check out the web page:

Teacher Guide:

Book Trailer:


  1. I couldn't be happier to see another beautiful book centered around our beloved canines for middle grade readers. I went right to my favorite indie store and placed an order for this title. Thanks for this post, Bobbie and Annemarie.

  2. Looks like a fascinating new book...thanks for sharing insights!

  3. I love dog books. This one looks fantastic!

  4. Where were books like this when I was growing up? Middle graders and teens have so many wonderful books to read today, and I'm happy to add this one to my list of recommendations!

  5. CONGRATULATIONS TO LAURIE! You've won the signed copy of LARA'S GIFT!