Dear readers: Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a heartbreaking book. Probably one of the most heartbreaking books I have ever read andOriginal Review HERE
Dear readers: Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a heartbreaking book. Probably one of the most heartbreaking books I have ever read and when I say heartbreaking, I do mean it. It is a sad book, difficult to read and as I finished it, I sobbed my heart out, out-loud, feeling like I would drown in my own tears. Just thinking about it makes me want to start crying all over again. Yes, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is unflinchingly sad and all the more sad because of its unwavering realism. Emotional reaction aside, it’s also an extremely well-written book, with beautiful prose and a narrative structure that works and with characters that you both want to yell at and hug close to your heart.
The funny thing is how wary I was when I started reading Please Ignore Vera Dietz. My first encounter with A.S. King’s books was not was not very successful and I thought that The Dust of 100 Dogs had great potential (its premise, the prose, the narrative) but it never lived up to it. And when I started Please Ignore Vera Dietz, I was startled by how Vera’s voice reminded me of that other book and by the similarities in the structure of both novels, alternating between past and present and building up to reveal a mystery. The main difference is how this time around, there is cohesion between past and present and how the resolution is handled with more care. As for the voice, soon enough Vera became her own person, wholly different from Saffron/Emer. In that sense, to me, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a much superior book to The Dust of 100 Dogs and I am glad that I gave the author another chance.
But what is it about? Vera Dietz and her secrets. Vera Dietz and her family’s history. Vera Dietz and her best friend Charlie Kahn who just died in tragic circumstances. Vera Dietz trying to get on with her life after that but finding it very hard because of her secrets, because of her family’s history, because Charlie won’t let her.
Her entire life, Vera has loved Charlie, her next door neighbour, her best friend, her first love. Then that love turned into hatred and the story follows Vera now, after Charlie died and Vera then, torn between friendship and love and ultimately hate. Add to that alternating narrative, a couple of chapters from Vera’s dad perspective, a few more from a Pagoda and from a dead kid (adding a bit of fantastic realism to the mixture) and ergo, you have all that you need to put the puzzle pieces together. And by the time the reader does, it is not hard to understand both the love for Charlie but the hatred too and how it is possible to feel both at the same time for the same person.
The mystery of how Charlie died – something that only Vera knows, and only Vera can clear his name after horrible accusations have been made – and what made Vera hate him is what drives the plot forward and what keeps the reader on the edge to find out. But the real tragedy of the book, the real story that the author is telling is the one that is flawlessly woven in the narrative. Because Vera, and Charlie and Vera’s father are united by something other than Charlie’s death: they are united by how he lived, abused by his parents and witnessing his mother being abused every single day; by Vera and her father’s silence (“please ignore it, Vera”) in the face of that abuse; by how they are all trapped by poverty and prejudice and small-town minds. Vera’s father brought her up by himself after her mother left a few years back and he is strict and aloof, he demands and expects Vera to work from a very early age so that she can learn the real value of money as much as he expects her not to go on dates so she won’t turn into a slut or how he expects her not to drink so she won’t turn into an alcoholic just like him and his father before him. And even with all that, it is undeniable that Vera’s father does all that because of love.
With that sort of upbringing, with that sort of unreasonable expectations, with that sort of pressure, it is not a surprise that Vera and Charlie are messed up kids. Vera will not go into a date because SURELY she WILL become just like her mother, perhaps a stripper and end up with no future at all; Charlie will not admit he loves Vera because SURELY he WILL be abusive and violent just like his father.
It is a horrible, poisonous environment they live in where the idea of destiny (and genetics even, as idiotic as it may sound from outsiders who know better) keep them both trapped in a vicious circle and because they are both failed by the ones that would help them getting away from it, i.e. their parents it is all down to Vera and Charlie to try and break away on their own. We know that Charlie didn’t and this is part of what makes it heartbreaking. Because it leaves Vera in such a lonely, cumbersome life where breathing is hard, getting away is hard, trying to see is hard but by the end of the book, there is definite hope in the horizon.
I am trying really hard not to spoil the book by not giving away details of the plot. But I can say that Please Ignore Vera Dietz is the sort of book that is not bound by the confines of its covers. It made me think beyond the book, about real life, and real kids going through shit like Vera and Charlie go through, about being silent, about ignorance and poverty and horrible circumstances and what it can do to people. That is also made me care so much for fictional characters that I hope for their lives – Vera’s and her father’s – to be better after I close the book can only attest to the strength of this story.
The more I think about the book, the more I like it and I would not be surprised if it made its way into my top reads of 2010.
The only other thing I can say is: please don’t ignore this gem of a book. ...more
All Our Pretty Songs: an unnamed (and unreliable) narrator, a love story (but not like you expect) and a rOriginal review posted on The Book Smugglers
All Our Pretty Songs: an unnamed (and unreliable) narrator, a love story (but not like you expect) and a retelling of the Orpheus myth (but not like you know it).
All Our Pretty Songs: almost too good to be true. How is this a debut work? With this level of awesome prose? And gutsy storytelling? And by gutsy I really mean: simply writing a story that follows young characters who experience life – sex, drugs and rock & roll – in a way that is as real as any of all the other possible portrayals of teen life in YA.
So, unnamed narrator narrates: about her life and the life of her best-friend-almost-sister Aurora; and the way that she is always taking care of beautiful, volatile Aurora. There’s always been the two of them and their love and dedication and loyalty to each other. And there is a passion for music here that seeps from the narrative and that passion becomes almost tangible when they meet a musician named Jack. His gift is amazing and when he plays, everybody listens. And our unnamed narrator falls in lust and in love with Jack almost immediately (and definitely completely).
And even though the world we all inhabit is very much one of real things as it just so happens – as our narrator finds out – it is also one where things are real. So…when we say that everybody listens to Jack and that everybody pays attention to Aurora, we mean that literally. There is myth come to life here (and why the Pacific Northwest? Because “they” are everywhere) and the unnamed narrator – who is not beautiful or talented – sits in the margins, looking from the outside, unable to follow where they eventually go.
And the narrative is kind of dream-like and there are parts where there is a bit of stream of consciousness (kinda like this review) and as the story progress it becomes both more focused and more meandering if that makes any sense at all. What strikes me the most about the story is how even though the plot deals with life and death and danger and terror, the narrative is still extremely insulated because as worldly as the narrator seems to be with the parties and the sex and the drugs and the freedom, she is still a 17-year-old girl who makes snap judgements about people and whose narrow view of those she loves and about herself is still informed by her inexperience.
And I love her for all of that. I love that the narrator and the story is about complex relationships with close family, close friends, and sisterhood. Also with lovers and how love shapes her view of the world. So inasmuch as the narrator falls irrevocably in love with Jack, she is still involved in other stuff and with other people – I loved her relationship with her mother and with her friend Raoul. Plus there is a lot of negotiating that happens between how freely she has given her body and her heart and the fact that sometimes this is not enough to the other person. So this is definitely Coming-of-Age as much as it is Quest (when are those not the same?) . And central to this is also this self-awareness and this slow learning curve about what it means to be talented and beautiful which includes astute observations about our world and how we choose to look at people and allocate them “worth”. Because this is also a mythology retelling it all comes together:
"Once upon a time, girls who were too beautiful or too skilled were changed into other things by angry gods and their wives. A cow, a flower, a spider, a fog. Maybe you boasted too loudly of sleeping with a goddess’s husband. Maybe you talked too much about your own talents. Maybe you were born dumb and pretty, and the wrong people fell in love with you, chased you across fields and mountains and oceans until you cried mercy and a god took pity on you, switched your body to a heaving sea of clouds. Maybe you stayed in one place for too long, pining for someone who wasn’t yours, and your toes grew roots into the earth and your skin toughened into bark. Maybe you told the world how beautiful your children were, and the gods cut them down in front of you to punish you for your loose tongue, and you were so overcome with grief your body turned to stone."
Which just goes to show how these mythological beings (also EVERYBODY on the planet) are complete assholes who randomly and arbitrarily assign value to people.
Because here is the thing: as much as the narrator constantly tells us that she is unworthy because she is not typically beautiful or talented like her friends the fact remains that she is equally AWESOME. Even though she is flawed (who isn’t?), there is loyalty, and dedication, and determination and talent here in spades. Probably my favourite quote:
"I will not let the terror of the dark get hold of me. If this is a test, I will fucking pass it. I will pass any test this creepy skeleton in a crappy suit can give me. Let them turn me into stone or water or flowers. I came here for my lover and the girl who is my sister, and they were mine before anyone else tried to take them from me, before this bony motherfucker showed up on my stoop and let loose all the old things better left at rest. Jack I will let go; Jack is on his own, now. But I will die before I leave Aurora down here."
Dear narrator, you are so awesome and I don’t even know your name.
To sum up: great book. Really reminded me of Imaginary Girls and September Girls in terms of tone, narrative and themes.
All Our Pretty Songs can be read as a self-contained, standalone book but I understand it is the beginning of a series. I don’t know where this is going but I will follow and I will not even look back. ...more
Note: I chose NOT to include huge spoilers for the series so that anybody can read this post in which I try to tell you WHY you should read this serieNote: I chose NOT to include huge spoilers for the series so that anybody can read this post in which I try to tell you WHY you should read this series. You’re welcome.
Let me start by saying: wow. WOW.
I just can’t get over how good The Spark is. I’ve finished reading it a couple of days ago and haven’t recovered from the experience yet.
Roughly, this is what happens in The Spark: Valen, roughly one year since events at the end of Fly Into Fire. Penny “Broken” Silverwing and Sky Ranger now have a baby son, Amos. Teenager Dee is trying to take control of her powers of fire. Along with the few surviving extrahumans they have made a life for themselves apart from everything and everyone, an oasis of presumed tranquillity and as it eventually turns out, unwise recklessness. An ally and friend betrays their location to the Confederation and shit hits the fan monumentally.
And then ten years pass.
I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
I sat down to write a regular review but all of a sudden…the review became something else. Because I realise that not everybody has read the first two books in the series, because I want more people to read then, I thought: instead of writing a regular review of this third book, I ought to write about the series as a whole and why I love them and why I think ALL THE PEOPLES should be reading this.
I have been reading and raving about this series since last year but with The Spark it reached a level of awesome that is off-the-charts.
Read this series if you like Scifi: like, proper, well-developed Scifi complete with space travel and superpowers and alien races. But also: dystopias. Proper, thought-out Dystopias with a government that seems to be on your side but it really are not. A government whose tentacles seem inescapable and there is real danger out there. One does not simply fight the Confederation. There are always consequences.
Read this series if you like politics: read this for the politics of the Confederation and how it controls many places at the same time but also how it attempts to control the lives and minds of people. Read this for the unrest, for the realisation that there can be no complete stability when people are exploited and subjugated and controlled. Read this for the resistance – in all forms and shapes – and for the beginning of an awesome revolution.
Read this series if you like awesome, complex characters. I just can’t even begin to describe how awesome this group of characters is and how their arcs evolve and progress beautifully. How there is angst, and sacrifices, and choices to be made and conflict. These people are put through the wringer and no one is safe. This series do not pull punches and is at times, truly heartbreaking.
Read this series if you like superheroes: whose powers are often not a blessing but a curse, whose powers don’t magically solve their problems or the problems of the world. If you like people with powers and whose struggle to accept them, control them is a lifetime struggle. These people struggle to understand who they are with or without those powers.
Read this if you like serious conflict: internal and external. The frame of the series is how an extrahuman who can predict the future contacts our characters from the past to let them know what they need to do to make a better future for everybody. Read this if you think this is fucked-up and unfair and how are these people NOT pawns on an already set course they cannot (can’t they?) alter.
Read this if you like diversity in your stories: for there are people of many races and many sexual identities. In fact, one of the main characters is a transgender person.
The Spark is a patently mature work from this author. It is a rounded, polished work and and the ending, when it comes, is as bittersweet as it can be and a perfect fit to the overall feel of this series. It is an open ending, full of potential and hope – and I hope to gods that Susan Jane Bigelow goes back to this world one day and allow me to spend more time with these characters.
I simply cannot recommend this series enough. The Spark is a serious contender for a top 10 spot this year....more
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THE SERIES. If you have not read the first two books and do not wish toOriginal Review HERE
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THE SERIES. If you have not read the first two books and do not wish to be spoiled, AVERT YOUR VIRGIN EYES!**
Over half a year has passed since the impenetrable dome-like force field has settled over the seaside town of Perdido Beach. Everyone over the age of 15 vanished in an instant – poofed out – while the children were left behind. Times have been hard for the children and teens trapped in the FAYZ (the “Fallout Alley Youth Zone”); the FAYZ not only cut off the trapped children’s contact with the outside world, but it also somehow manifested in strange mutations. Some of the children and teens developed powers – the ability to fire light from hands, to cancel gravity, to move at incredible speeds, to teleport. The animals in the FAYZ began to change too – snakes grow wings, coyotes learn to speak, and worms grow to monstrous size. Under the ruthless leadership of Caine, the rich, troubled kids from the Coates Academy clashed with the Perdido Beach children with their reluctant leader, Sam. An all-out war ensued in Hunger, especially as food dwindled, and the children of the FAYZ began to starve.
And all the while, the ominous Darkness – an evil entity that calls itself “the gaiaphage” – remains fixated on these trapped children, determined to manipulate, to kill, to devour, to break their will, and to take control of this isolated, trapped universe in an impenetrable bubble.
In Lies, things are even more dire for our trapped youth in the FAYZ. The food situation has been kind-of sorted out, though everyone is still constantly hungry. Resentment continues to breed in Perdido Beach, even with the exile of Caine and the Coates kids and the death of the twisted, sadistic Drake. Zil and his thug followers on the “Human Crew” thrive on the lack of stability in town, and propagate their mission to isolate and kill all the “Freaks” (those kids with superpowers). Sam struggles with the ineffectiveness of the newly formed Town Council, while Astrid is livid at his decision to keep secrets from her and her fellow Council members. And Orsay, the girl with the ability to walk in others’ dreams, begins to see the dreams of those outside of the FAYZ. Known as “the Prophetess” and with a growing following hungry for her news of the outside world, Orsay may be the salvation of every trapped child, or their damnation.
Man, I love this series.
If I had to describe this book, and this series overall, in a single word, it would be “relentless.” The action never quits; these poor kids have not a second of solace, as the tension and horrors keep mounting. Driven mad by hunger and malnutrition, pushed to their absolute breaking points, our hero Sam is tested harshly in this third novel. One of my only complaints with the prior books in this series was how the bulk of this multi-cast of characters fell simple along the lines of “good” or “evil” – there are the sadists like Caine, Drake and Diana; sycophants like Computer Jack and Howard; and the troupe of good guys, with Sam, Astrid, Edilio, Dekka, and Breeze. In particular, the ostensible lead characters – Sam and Astrid – came across as almost too good to be true. True, Sam has had his share of reluctance as a leader, and he has made questionable decisions, but Astrid prior to this book has been largely relegated to the supporting, motherly/virginal/good girl role. In Lies, I was delighted to see that this simplicity is gone. Sam loses it (and really, who wouldn’t lose it, considering the circumstances? Seven months of death, destruction, and fear grind down on even the staunchest of heroes). We finally get a look at what makes Astrid tick, and she gains color and depth as a character. For a genius, she makes her own share of mistakes – she’s the perfect example of idealism failing in a situation where realism is needed. Condescending, hypocritical, and haughty, the Astrid of Lies is not the infallible girlfriend of the earlier books. And this, along with her gradual realization of her mistakes and her ability to finally take action, endeared her to me as a character. I loved it.
There’s a LOT going on in terms of plotting for Lies too, and I don’t want to spoil anyone eager to scoop up book three. So, I’ll just drop a few teasers: Lies introduces us to a new group of excellent characters. It also gives readers a glimpse of what is outside the bubble. There are more deaths, more tragedies, and more desperate acts from an increasingly desperate group under Cain’s leadership.
And you didn’t really think the gaiaphage was defeated, did you? You didn’t think you’d seen the last of certain characters, did you? No. I didn’t think so.
While the descriptions and general level of writing is pretty straightforward in this book (as it has been for the prior books), what Mr. Grant lacks in writerly finesse and style, he more than makes up for with his gift for plot and his ability to tell a story. I am constantly amazed at Michael Grant’s ability to balance the supernatural elements of this story, managing to keep things grim, dark, and terrifying when it’s such an easy slide into cheese or comedy. Kids with superpowers, religious zeal, the embodiment of evil…it’s a lot to handle, but the GONE books do it with aplomb.
I devoured Lies in a day, unable to sleep until I knew where the story was going – because I really had no clue how everything would tie together by the end of this installment (and holyfreakingcrap is it GOOD). The GONE books are reminiscent of early Stephen King – there’s a reason why he’s blurbed the series. (On that note, if you read Under the Dome and were left wanting more, look no further. In my opinion, the GONE novels are superior.) Heck, I’d even go so far as to say that Lies and the other books in this series are even darker than anything “adult” fiction I’ve read recently. Lies is chilling stuff, dudes. It’s the good stuff. If you haven’t been to the FAYZ yet, you should. Horror fans, Lord of the Flies fans, apocalyptic/dystopian fans, if you haven’t read this series, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Princess Lissla Lissar is the daughter of a heroic and handsome king,Originally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Trigger Warning: Rape, abuse, incest.
Princess Lissla Lissar is the daughter of a heroic and handsome king, who won the hand of the most beautiful woman in the Seven Kingdoms. Every night, Lissar listens to her nursemaid spin the same tale - the story of her father, winning her mother's hand over the other six Kings by completing an impossible, superhuman task. Every day and every night, Lissar hears the story of her mother's incredible beauty and her father's heroic deeds, and how much everyone in the kingdom loves their royal leaders. On the rare occasions that Lissar gets to see her parents, or even interact with other children, she is always in the background, neglected and forgotten in the face of the stunning beauty and splendor of her parents.
But one day, the beautiful queen is not quite as beautiful as she once was, and loses her will to live. Before she dies, she commissions a great and terrible painting of her unparalleled beauty, and with her dying breath she makes her husband promise that he will only marry again if his bride is as beautiful as she. Racked by his grief, the King agrees, driven mad by his grief. As the kingdom mourns, Princess Lissar withdraws further away from the prying eyes and games of the court - her only true friend is her beloved hound, Ash, and together she and Ash spend the next quiet years in a secluded part of the castle, away from the eyes of Lissar's father.
When Lissar turns seventeen, however, everything changes as her father's feverish gaze seizes on Lissar's blooming beauty and her resemblance to her mother. Following a nightmarish birthday ball, the King declares that he will marry Princess Lissla Lissar in three days. Horrified and alone, Lissar tries to lock herself away from her father, but to no avail - he breaks down her doors, beats and rapes his daughter in the night. Battered, terrified, but with a stubborn will to live, Lissar stumbles away from the palace with only the company of her loyal dog Ash, and makes her way through the cold, cruel woods.
After a long, cold winter, Lissar is able to heal, though she blocks out all memory of her past. When the weather warms, she leaves her isolated home in the woods for a new kingdom and earns a job in the palace kennels. Here, Lissar makes a new life for herself - but she will be forced to confront her past once and for all, with a future of hope and happiness waiting for her.
Deerskin is not an easy book to read. Incredibly disturbing, painful, and triggering, this is NOT a book for everyone. That said, as horrific and raw as this book is, Deerskin is also a resonant, powerful, and empowering read.
From a writing perspective, Robin McKinley tends towards the verbose and the ornate - sometimes this works for her books, and sometimes (in my opinion) it does not. I am happy to say that Deerskin is one of the successful endeavors, with its beautiful, languid prose, vivid images and descriptions. McKinley is retelling a fairy tale, after all, and Deerskin is a decidedly dreamlike book with heavy folklore overtones. As Philip Pullman discusses in his version of the story "Thousandfurs" (and in general for Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm), the magic of a fable lies in its telling, and Deerskin excels in this regard with its lush turns of phrase. Even when describing something as simple as cleaning a hut in the middle of winter, or the techniques to feed ailing puppies (both events that occur in this text, mind you), McKinley makes the story effortlessly interesting and surprisingly ethereal.
But beyond the setting, the telling, and the world, Deerskin is really a book that comes down to a horrific story, and a young woman's stubborn will to live. Heroine Lissar, who becomes Deerskin and Moonwoman, is the sole figure at the heart of this book, and on whose shoulders the tale's success or failure rests. And let me say this once with feeling: Lissar is an amazing, gut-wrenching, awe-inspiring heroine. I loved her character, I cried for her character, I rooted wholeheartedly for her character. Lissar's growing dread defines the first part of this book, as she looks into her father's eyes for the first time and sees something she cannot name, but something that frightens her deeply. Like a nightmare, the next years of her young life unfold with her always pulling away from her father's notice, until it comes to a crashing, horrific climax following her seventeenth birthday. This, for me, was an incredibly challenging read - I had to keep putting the book down because it was so disturbing - but Robin McKinley does a phenomenal job of building this terror and claustrophobia, and then segueing the book from one of fear to one of hope. Because as dark and horrific as the first part of the story is, as Lissar flees her old life and begins to heal and gradually comes to confront her past, it's an amazing and empowering arc. And, it has a happy ending - one where Lissar is able to confront and defeat the monster of her past, and have a future of happiness and life.
I could wax on about Lissar and Ash (the most touching, wonderful relationship between a woman and her closest animal companion that I have read probably...ever), about the folkloric elements with the Moonwoman that helps Lissar find her way, about the slow simmering relationship between Lissar and Prince Ossin...but perhaps those are all things that are best discovered by the reader. Suffice it to say, I loved all of these different threads and Robin McKinley's skill at weaving them together into a complete story.
I don't know if I'll read Deerskin again in the near future - most likely not. But I feel stronger and smarter and alive for reading it, and I absolutely recommend it. ...more
**WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THE SERIES. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST TWO NOVEOriginal Review HERE
**WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THE SERIES. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST TWO NOVELS AND DO NOT WISH TO BE SPOILED, AWAY WITH YOU! Consider yourself warned.**
Oh, Chaos Walking. How much do I love thee? This series is basically an insane roller coaster of action and emotion – torn apart by forces much larger than themselves, Todd and Viola are separated at the end of The Ask and the Answer, as New Prentisstown is under impending attack from the native Spackle. Unable to take on the invading army by himself, Todd reluctantly has to enlist the Mayor’s help to stave off the Spackle attack long enough to make peace. Though Todd hates to rely at all on Mayor Prentiss, at least he’s gratified by the fact that he has beaten the Mayor before, and knows he can do it again with his Noise. Meanwhile, Viola rushes back to the camp of the Answer, where her she must confront Mistress Coyle for her brutal tactics – and to intercept the colonizer landing party of her former teachers and friends before Mistress Coyle can manipulate them into causing an all-out annihilation of the Spackle and men of New Prentisstown.
As the tensions mount, Todd and Viola struggle towards their goal of peace, even when a whole planet seems set against them.
Well, damn. Monsters of Men is nothing if not action-filled, and makes for a frenetic, dramatic conclusion to one of the finest Young Adult dystopian/science fiction series’ out there. If you’ve read the prior books (and presumably you have, since you’re reading this review), you already know that Patrick Ness’s world of Haven is awesomely unique, from its troubled origins in the Spackle/Colonist war, to the unprecedented effect of the planet itself on its new human and animal residents – laying bare every thought in a torrent of uninterrupted and indiscriminating NOISE (well, everyone except females, that is). A parable for our modern onslaught of information? Perhaps. But more impressive than that is how Mr. Ness has taken an awesome premise, and has built upon it over the course of the series – and Monsters of Men is no exception. In the first novel, the revelation that there are in fact other colonies on Haven – and women in those colonies – shocks and awes; in The Ask and the Answer, we learn the extent of the Mayor’s machinations, and are introduced to a contingent dedicated against him at any cost. And in this final book, we gain insight to the Spackle, and all the tensions of the prior books come to their inevitable head. Mr. Ness certainly has a gift for scope and creating a story that you want to come back to – heck, the series is over (maybe not?? Hmm, Patrick Ness, are you listening?), and I STILL want to come back to Haven.
So far as technicals go, the plotting for Monsters of Men is suicidally fast-paced, giving a whole new meaning to “white knuckle.” This is both a blessing and a curse – a blessing because the book is so damn absorbing, and there’s no putting it down once you’ve started it; a curse because in all the action and drama, there’s less finesse and subtlety in terms of themes, especially where certain characters are concerned (more on that in a bit).
In terms of the cast, the characters are, per usual, fantastic – Todd and Viola are heroes to make your heart bleed with all their raw emotion and integrity. In this final novel, Todd goes through a very Luke Skywalker-Darth Vader thing with the Mayor, staving off the Dark Side – I AM THE CIRCLE AND THE CIRCLE IS ME – with mixed results. Viola too goes through her own tests in this book, learning the limits of what she won’t do to ensure Todd’s safety, versus the future of the colony and the Spackle. These are both characters that have grown so much over the course of the series, and to see them finally come to terms with how they feel for each other, what they will do for each other in this final book…well, it’s breathtaking stuff.
What I loved the most about this book in addition to these two protagonists, however, was the voice of 1017 – known amongst the remaining Spackle as “The Return” – the sole survivor of “The Burden” (those Spackle sacrificed and left behind in the truce with the invading colonizers, whom the Spackle refer to as “The Clearing”). The voice of the Spackle, as told through the Return (1017), the Sky, and the Land, is a fascinating, wholly original thing. Confusing, initially, but I love that Mr. Ness understands that his readers are clever enough to figure it out. The Return in particular is a conflicted character that oscillates between blind hatred for Todd (whom he and the Spackle refer to as “The Knife”) because of Todd’s ongoing participation in the Spackle slaughter, and struggling to understand the peace-seeking ways of the rest of his people. The Return is an outsider in the same ways that Todd and Viola are, and even more so besides. Different than The Land – those wild Spackle – The Return struggles with his very human-emotions and his ability to conceal his Noise, anathema to a people that are connected to each other, to the very planet by virtue of their speechless communication.
And, of course, what would this series be without its villains? The Mayor is, perhaps, the most terrifying and formidable of all the forces Todd and Viola have encountered, and his crushing presence in Monsters of Men continues the cycle. So too is Viola’s “mentor” the prickly Mistress Coyle. And yet…neither of these characters are simply EVIL – they have their own reasons for the ways that they act, and given this insight to their pasts, it’s impossible to label them as “bad” people. Like everything in life, these are complicated characters, and I loved seeing this complex treatment of characters – especially in a Young Adult novel.
With all the strengths of Monsters of Men, however, there were a few flaws worth mentioning. Most disappointing was the heavy-handed treatment of certain themes in this book. Whereas in the prior novels, there was a certain thematic subtlety, in Monsters of Men, everything is laid out, point-blank – Mistress Coyle is a terrorist! Mayor Prentiss is a Dictator! In other words, the political/ideological thematics have all the subtlety of an incoming missile.
This criticism aside, I absolutely loved Monsters of Men. While The Ask and the Answer is still my favorite book in the series, this final novel is a beautiful, fitting send off to a truly superior series. And…I’m really sad to see it go, but at the same time, I think it ended perfectly. Absolutely recommended to readers of all ages and preferences.
There is a point in Redemption in Indigo when the omniscient narrator says that “tales are meant to be an inspiration, not a substitute”. It is a meanThere is a point in Redemption in Indigo when the omniscient narrator says that “tales are meant to be an inspiration, not a substitute”. It is a meaningful line and one that sticks around longer than expected. It is one line among many others within this novel that provokes the reader and stimulates a certain level of engagement about the nature of storytelling and reader’s expectation. It is also an appropriately self-descriptive line because Redemption in Indigo is inspiring.
The story draws inspiration from a folk tale from Senegal about a heroine named Paama. Her story though is only but a starting point for Karen Lord to construct her own fantastical tale – one that includes djombi (spirits that are mainly personifications of ideas or forces such as change or patience), tricksters and a stick that can control the forces of chaos.
Paama is a wonderful cook and her husband Ansige is a glutton. You would think theirs is a match made in heaven but Ansige’s gluttony is accompanied by intolerance, arrogance and stupidity and finally after years of endurance, Paama leaves Ansige. Two years later, the man is finally moved to go in search of his wife, finding Paama living with her parents in her childhood home. Ansige’s penchant to get into silly situations and create a myriad of problems is equivalent only to Paama’s awesome efficiency with dealing with them. It is this mixture of endurance and brilliance that brings Paama to the attention of a djombi in search of someone to carry the Chaos Stick after it was seized from its previous owner – another djombi with indigo skin who misused its power but still insists he is its rightful owner and will do anything in his power to get it back.
What ensues is an extremely elaborate tale that deals with very human feelings against the backdrop of universal- sized problems in a sublime combination of the immediate (and short-lived) and the everlasting (and immortal). On the one hand there lies Paama and her family, their village, their prospects in life. There are dreams to be lived and love to be had as well as hurdles to be overcome. Paama is a brilliant heroine, resilient, brave, vulnerable and uncertain. This is someone who buries her tears and carries her burden and deals with her problems the best way she can.
On the other hand, the immortal djombi and the trickster watch, mingle and affect and are in turn, affected by all this humanity. The principal plot is that between the indigo djombi and Paama and their way of using (or not) the Chaos Stick. The djombi at first shows a disregard for human beings (reason of his downfall) that is equal to Paama’s esteem for them although her gaze turns out be perhaps too short-sighted which is, of course, only to be expected. It is ironic actually that this puny, short-lived human is given the stick by the personification of patience. There is an undeniable gravitas to this story and yet it is deceptively light due mostly to its narrative. As great as the story and the characters are, the omniscient narrator is what tips the scale and sets this story into awesome territory. The narrator tells this story in a way that reminisce oral traditions, that reminds of old times, that invites the reader to come closer and to listen carefully. It is a narrator that is utterly familiar and incredibly original at the same time and equal parts funny, opinionated and wise:
I told you from the very beginning that it was a story about choices – wise choices, foolish choices, small yet momentous choices – for with choices come change, and with change comes opportunity , and both change and opportunity are the very cutting edge of the power of chaos. And yet as the undying ones know and the humans too often forget, even chaos cannot overcome the power of choice.
Redemption in Indigo is a brilliant little gem of a novel, as close to perfect as storytelling can be. It is hard to believe that such an intricate tale could be told in just about 200 pages. It is even harder to believe that this is Karen Lord’s debut given how self-assured the narrative is. But it is extremely easy to see how this book has earned such well-deserved admiration, mine included. ...more
It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit and ended up with my being eaten by a carnivorous plant. It wasn’tOriginally Published HERE
It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit and ended up with my being eaten by a carnivorous plant. It wasn’t really what I’d planned for myself – I’d hoped to marry into the Oxbloods and join their dynastic string empire. But that was four days ago, before I met Jane, retrieved the Caravaggio and explored High Saffron. So instead of enjoying aspirations of Chromatic advancement, I was wholly immersed within the digestive soup of a yateveo tree. It was all frightfully inconvenient.
So begins the narrative of Eddie Russett; twenty-years old, son of a well-reputed Swatchman (doctor of sorts), almost engaged to the well-connected Constance Oxblood, and secretly can perceive of a shockingly high percentage of Red. Eddie’s world is a Colortocracy, with a strict hierarchy (called the Chromatic Scale) based on the colors that individuals can perceive – Purples are the highest, followed by Greens, Yellows, Blues, Oranges, Reds, and, at the very bottom of the scale, the subservient Greys (incapable of perceiving any significant amount of any color). While each class can perceive of their own color in nature, every other color appears gray – unless it’s artificially painted and enhanced (a very expensive, and seen by some as a garish, ostentatious flaunting of wealth).
As such, Eddie, although part of the nouveaux couleur Russett family, has a carefully planned, bright future ahead of him. That is, until he and his father are sent out by the Collective from their cushy city life in Jade-Under-Lime on assignment to East Carmine, in the Outer Fringes of society – Eddie’s father is to fill in Swatchman position, while Eddie is assigned to conduct a census of all the chairs in the town (as Eddie explains, “Head Office is worried that the chair density might have dropped below the proscribed 1.8 per person.”). On the way to East Carmine, however, everything changes for the young Russett. He and his father discover a Grey masquerading as a Purple and a beautiful but prickly young Grey named Jane – whom Eddie instantly is smitten with (at their first meeting she threatens to break his. When they finally reach the Outer Fringes, Eddie discovers secret plots, cutthroat politics, and murder cover-ups – and again that strange, abrasive (but beautiful, retrousse-nosed) Jane. Eddie begins to question his entire society, and why he was sent out to East Carmine in the first place.
Shades of Grey is unquestionably one of the most deeply original books I have ever read. It’s bizarre, it’s absurd, it’s detail-laden, and, well, it’s…awesome. As quirky and smart as this book is, Mr. Fforde’s writing and his strange world never feels forced or contrived (a “trying-too-hard” pitfall I’ve unfortunately seen in other works of quirky, absurdist fiction). Rather, Shades of Grey puts me in the mind of the strange, delightful humor and world building of Terry Pratchett. Part of Mr. Fforde’s success is in those devilish details, as I adored all of the details in this novel. The ridiculous rules imposed on this Colortocratic society (“The Word of Munsell was the Rules, and the Rules were the Word of Munsell,”) range from an absolute prohibition on the production of spoons (causing a spoon shortage, making spoons one of the most valuable commodities), acronyms are outlawed, and handkerchiefs must be changed daily (and always folded). These rules are enumerated in pre-chapter epigraphs throughout the book, for example:
1.1.19.02.006: Team sports are mandatory in order to build character. Character is there to give purpose to team sports.
22.214.171.124.028: Ovaltine may not be drunk at any time other than before bed.
These sort of flourishes are everywhere, delighting and enhancing the reader’s picture of the world. Trains and the occasional Model-T are the primary modes of transportation (and are very limited). Familiar ancient relics are in this strange new world too – the Oz Monument (yes, for that Oz), the boardgame Risk, the strange A Christmas Story like throwback to Ovaltine.
In the midst of this rich, bizarre bouquet, the plotting falls second to the world building. Which is perfectly fine by me, as the story thread is there, and though it’s left behind at times for description, there’s enough mystery and plot to keep readers thoroughly engaged. In terms of characters, they too come short when compared to the details of the novel, but they are still undeniably compelling. The first person narrative voice of Eddie is delightful – he’s a bit of an unintentional fool, in his schoolboyish optimism, his crush on the antagonistic Jane, and his unquenchable curiosity. Jane is another stellar character too – her first lines to Eddie floor me (upon being elbow-grabbed by our intrepid hero, she responds, “Touch me again and I’ll break your fucking jaw.”). The other, assorted characters are varied and quirky, adding, if you’ll accept a lame pun, another layer of color to the story.
And then, there’s the reason I picked up this book in the first place – the dystopian and post-apocalyptic elements. And, I’m happy to report, just as with the details and world building aspects of the Shades of Grey, the dystopian angle is exquisite. One thing I absofreakinglutely love in a book is an author that doesn’t hand-hold his or her readers – unlike, say, the most recent episodes of LOST where subtext is as elusive as a hot shower. That is to say, Mr. Fforde lets these dystopian elements and the backstory of his world come out gradually, as Eddie reveals, piecemeal, little clues about the history of the Collective. What eventually becomes clear is that something has happened to Eddie’s world (referred to throughout merely as “The Something That Happened”), that changed everything – people became only able to see certain colors, chaos ensued until the great Munsell imposed order with a set of rigid, unchangeable rules. Outside of the Colortocracy’s borders there are the dreaded “Riffraff” – only alluded to as savage, uncivilized heathens. And then, there’s “The Rot” – a mysterious, fast-acting disease that infects citizens seemingly at random, and for which there is no cure. There’s a stagnation of ideas, a loss of technology (relics of which remain, silent and unused). These dystopian elements are little tidbits, revealed throughout the book (biochemical weapons, the presence of dangerous things in the Night, the intense fear and sensitivity the people in this world have to the dark)…and it’s very cool stuff.
In fact, the only place where Shades of Grey falls a little short is in extending some social commentary or analysis (as the blurb of the novel alludes to). The Color caste system is unflinching and based not necessarily on birth or wealth, but on the percentage of color seen (as taken in the one time only Ishihara exam) – an intriguing idea. But Mr. Fforde doesn’t really go into a true social critique of his color-caste world, which seems almost an automatic assumption. He could have taken this in a commentary on race, on apartheid, on classism, in a satyrical way. Reading, I found myself asking a number of questions that didn’t really get addressed – for example, are all these peoples’ skin tones the same? Even in shades of grey, a black person would look different than a white one. I even found myself questioning if these characters were even really PEOPLE at all! I felt like it could have been a lost Twilight Zone episode, in which Eddie, Jane and all those in this strange Collective are dolls or automatons. Regardless, even though Mr. Fforde never really “goes there” and doesn’t address any deeper rooted issues, this just means there’s room for exploration of these in the next two books. Plus, everything else is so wonderful in Shades of Grey, I could care less.
Overall, I loved this novel. LOVED it. I cannot wait for more, with the next two books!...more
Thea: The first impression I had when I started In the Night Garden was of Scheherezade and Arabian Nights – of sleeFull Review Link
Thea: The first impression I had when I started In the Night Garden was of Scheherezade and Arabian Nights – of sleepless nights filled with endless tales of heroic quests, monsters, and magic. This novel is Ms. Valente’s version of the 1001 nights, and it is a spectacular undertaking of a novel, weaving story within story within story a hundred times over. The prose is lush, the illustrations beautiful, storytelling completely enchanting – as with the Sultan to his Scheherezade, or the young boy prince to the strange orphan with her black rimmed eyes, I found myself enthralled by these strange, gorgeous tales.
Ana:Welcome to a rare event here at The Book Smugglers: we present you Bad Smuggler/Good Smuggler, featuring Ana, as The Bad Smuggler.
When I first started reading In The Night Garden, I was completely enamoured with it and I couldn’t agree more with Thea’s assessment above. The fascination lasted for about 200 pages or so and then, all of a sudden, it was no more. This book, in principle, should have been catapulted to my list of all time favourites and yet, it hasn’t. To say that I am totally befuddled with myself is to put it very mildly.
On the Plot:
Thea: It’s hard to talk about a traditional plot with In the Night Garden – on the outermost layer, it’s the story of a young, handsome princeling who discovers a mysterious girl in the gardens surrounding the sultan’s castle. Though of a noble family, the girl was born with a birthmark, surrounding both eyes with dark, inky black circles so she was cast out of the palace as a demon. The young boy, however, sees the orphaned girl and talks to her, and she tells him a story unlike any he’s ever heard before. The girl tells the prince two full stories, separated into two books in In the Night Garden, The Book of the Steppe, and The Book of the Sea, though the second story loops around and overlaps with the first. The Steppe begins with a simple tale of a crown prince who itches for adventure and discovers a flock of geese surrounding a witch’s cottage at the edge of the woods. When he kills one of the geese and it turns into a young woman, however, the Prince’s story grows stranger and stranger, as he learns the truth of the witch and her daughter-goose, an old war, wondrous monsters with noble hearts and ferocious faces, evil wizards, and the magic of stars. As the girl tells the prince her tale, she leaves off each night with a Scheherezadian cliffhanger, promising to tell him the rest when the two next meet. The prince finds himself enthralled by the girl’s powerful words, and continues to seek her out night after night, begging her to tell him another story after she’s finished with the first.
What can I say about these stories? They are breathtaking. They are eerie and haunting and lovely and terrible and beautiful all at once. There is no doubt that Ms. Valente has a gift for storytelling to rival her orphan girl, seamlessly weaving mythological tales from different cultures into a stunning tapestry. Each story blends into the next, separated by episodic chapter headings according to narrator (”The Wolf’s Tale,” “The Pale Girl’s Tale,” “The Discourse of the Marsh King”), and offering lovely illustrations (by comic book artist Michael Wm. Kaluta below*).
The only drawback to the novel is that because there are so many characters and stories separated into different chapters, it can be a bit confusing to keep track of exactly whose story you’re reading – especially if you have to put the book down for a bit and then try to re-engage. In the Night Garden is a sprawling, circular novel with only a glimmer of a thread of linear storyline – of the orphan, the princeling and his angry sister – connecting the disparate tales. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s unique, it’s different, and I loved it.
Ana: I simply cannot fault this book with regards to storytelling, writing or presentation. It is a tour de force and I was completely awed by each story, by the amazing events and the sheer scope of ideas and stories presented. The author NOT ONLY spins tale after tale with a wonderful variety (from sad stories to happy stories, from fantasy to politics, from mythology to religion) but she also makes them unique with very original twists to well-known tropes. She makes fun of the Hero’s Quest, she has princesses looking like monsters and being hailed for it, she has the Girl saving the Guy and so and so forth until one’s mind is spinning along with the stories themselves. This is a highly polished book that defies convention not only in format but also in content. It doesn’t go from A to B in a straight line (plot-wise or character-wise) and to expect it to read like that is a sure way to invite disappointment.
From a strictly intellectual point of view, the book is pretty amazing. For all intents and purposes, I should have loved the book. The IDEA of the book itself is mind-blowing in its creativity and the author’s mastery of storytelling is akin to people like Neil Gaiman and this is a comparison that I do not take lightly.
HOWEVER. Not all stories are interesting. I found myself bored with a few, and after a while when a new story began and I hadn’t seen the end of the previous one, I started to moan to myself “OMG, not another one”. But my main problem , if I can call it that, was that if I apply my sorry attempt of a reviewing process to it, I realise that the most important piece, at least for me, is missing. It goes something like this:
Is this is well written book? Hell yes.
Is it believable (you know, in the confines of the genre and the story, not that I believe that there ARE griffins and monopods for reals)? Yes, Quite
Do I care? Hummm…Yes?
How much do I care? Not much.
And that is all there is to it. I lacked an emotional connection with the characters because there were so many and they came and they went. This goes back to what I said about convention and I find myself one that is disappointed; but above all, would you believe it, I am disappointed in ME, because I wanted to really love this book and I didn’t, despite how much I like the premise and how much I enjoyed the beginning . Instead I rushed through the final 200 pages, I even committed the Sin of Skimming. And I feel like I am losing something by even admitting to it. Colour me surprised by my own reaction. This is clearly a case, of “It’s not the book , it is me”.
*Art pictured is not from In the Night Garden, but is Orphan’s Tales inspired art from Mr. Kaluta. For more images of his gorgeous art, look online HERE.
On the characters:
Thea: This is where things get even more tricky – there are SO MANY characters in this novel, one for each chapter, who flicker into and out of the book briefly. There is no real traditional “hero” or “heroine,” (arguably the main characters would be the orphan girl and the prince) but there are many, many memorable characters whose stories – no matter how brief – touched me. The Witch woman in the first story, “The Tale of the Prince and the Goose,” and her wise Grandmother and her poor, war-defeated people; the heron-headed Marsh King and his sole courtier, the Lucrotta named “Beast”; the terrible, stinking Wizard who yearns for the power of the stars; the lone sad pumpkin tree and her garden, with her friend the firebird; three cynocephaloi, dog-headed brothers; the brave and strong Sigrid weaving her nets; the tragic Eyvind, a man who was a bear. I think my favorite character, however, existed outside of the orphan’s tales, in the form of the prince’s eldest sister, Dinarzad. She punishes her younger brother for sneaking out of the palace, and for his dalliance with the demon who could curse their home – and even though both characters are two insignificant heirs as the Sultan has many, many children, Dinarzad is the one who insists on propriety, who “would have been sultan” were she not born a woman. Over the course of the book, outside of the orphan’s stories, we learn tantalizing bits about Dinarzad and why she is so harsh to a younger brother who wants to rebel.
Ana: When I finished the book I emailed Thea and I told her I was SO conflicted about it and mostly because of lack of a character arc to get me going and she replied talking about the characters above. She is right, on all accounts – all of these stories and characters ARE interesting, I can SEE that. But somehow, they were all passing, fleeting connections.
I really wanted to read more about the girl, the prince and Dinazard and I was completely frustrated to find out in the end that I would have to read yet another book with another handful of stories like these to finally be able to see how it all ends. I am completely aware of the fact that I am reading this with not quite the right frame of mind, that I am missing the point, that this book is the sort of the book where the journey matters more than the final destination.
I think that the greatest thing that came out of reading In The Night Garden though, was what I found out about me, as a reader. I constantly say that character trumps plot but that story trumps all and I found that this sometimes, is simply not true. Maybe to me, character trumps all, even story. Maybe, I am more conventional than I thought I was.
And I realised that this ended up being a review of my own reading the book than of the book itself – isn’t that great though? When a book sparks this sort of reaction?
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Thea: I can understand why some might find this sort of labyrinthine story with its many characters, flashing bright only to vanish completely like fallen stars themselves, might not appeal to some readers. But I? I loved it. It may have been a taxing experience to read this novel, and it required me to focus and challenge myself to keep track of the story at hand, to read large chunks of the book at a time lest I break the spell that held me in the Ms. Valente’s thrall…but I still loved it. This is not a book you pick up casually to read in starts and stops, nor is it a traditional novel in the sense of the word. But what it is, is a beautiful, imaginative, haunting work of fiction that resonates with all its wonder and eeriness. I loved it.
Ana: I don’t think this is a book for everybody – but then again, which book is? It requires attention, and time from the reader and some, as positive reviews all over the place and Thea’s own reaction attest to it, will be rewarded with the sheer magnitude of Catherynne M. Valente’s imagination. I am so sad that I am not one of them. I feel like a kid standing outside a Christmas’ shop staring to the marvellous things inside without being able to enjoy them. Mind you, it’s not that I didn’t like it – I just didn’t love it either.
Ana: I haven’t got a clue how to rate this. It is a GREAT book but not for me
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST EIGHT BOOKS IN THE WEATHER WARDEN SERIES. If you have not read the priorOriginal Review HERE
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST EIGHT BOOKS IN THE WEATHER WARDEN SERIES. If you have not read the prior books and do not wish to be spoiled, look away! (Also, if you haven’t read the first eight books, you really should not be reading this review. But go out and buy Ill Wind. Seriously. NOW.)**
Joanne Baldwin, former Weather, Earth and Fire Warden, wife to leader of the new djinn, David, and sassy badass finds herself facing the end of the world. After defeating nemesis Bad Bob Biringanine for the second time, Jo and David find themselves completely and utterly human – without any warden or djinn powers. As the cruise ship carrying the wardens and a number of powerful djinn makes its way back to harbor, everyone on board find themselves locked in a “black corner” – an aetheric dead spot, sapping the energy and powers. Even worse, when the ship emerges from the black corner, the djinn – dying, frightened and bereft of power – disappear.
Mother Earth is waking up, and she is pissed.
The now all-too-human Jo must figure out a way to restore her own powers, and David’s, before the world itself ends in a blaze of fury.
A bit of a disclaimer – in an attempt to refrain from spoiling *anything* in this last book, I’m keeping this review much more emotional (and less about specific plot points). Total Eclipse was a difficult book for me to read, and nearly impossible for me to review – I’ve been with Joanne Baldwin and David for…years. Each impossible scenario, each death-defying experience, each cliffhanger ending, I’ve endured it all over the course of these nine books, so reading Total Eclipse was something of a crazy, emotional, cathartic experience (On a side note, why does it feel like everything is ENDING this year? 2010 is a cruel, cold-hearted bitch of a year – Lost is gone, Harry Potter is in its own climactic finale, the tragic Mockingjay hit shelves with a vengeance…). I’ve come to look forward to each August, with another insane installment in the very tried and tired Joanne Baldwin’s extraordinary life. And so, when I began Total Eclipse, it was with the knowledge that there would be no further adventure. This, for better or for worse, was the end of the line. So, you can understand, it took a great deal of mental preparation to start this ultimate Weather Warden book.
And…it was perfect.
Not that there was any doubt in my mind that this last book would be anything but fantastic (if you’re a die-hard fan of this series and have stuck with it through all the books, you know exactly what to expect, and Ms. Caine always delivers). All the threads of Jo’s life, everything she has gone through over the course of the series comes together in a dramatic whirlwind of action and power in this novel. Total Eclipse is Jo coming full circle in many ways – from familiar faces and locations to another treacherous ride through the desert in a sweet midnight blue mustang, There’s a thread of destiny, of some larger pattern of the universe at play, too, with the makeup of the Jo, David and Lewis relationship fully coming to fruition and understanding. I’ve always loved Lewis, and thought that the series would ultimately end with this particular development for his character. Another welcome character development was Cherise and her own journey of power and revelation in this book. And, of course, one of my favorite characters, Rahel, has a bit of facetime here too and makes an emotional (well, for a badass djinn) reveal of her own. I loved it all.
Of course, the heart and soul of the series lies with heroine Jo and her match in David – and good god, the stakes have never been higher. Jo’s hero complex takes a different form in Total Eclipse, and she’s forced to find a way to cope and try to save the world without the aid of her warden powers – of course she’s as resourceful (and sassy) as ever. And of course, then there’s David. Like I said earlier today, I’m not a huge romantic, but when I find a pair that *does* it for me, I am fiercely loyal and buy into the romance hook, line and sinker. Jo and David are one of those pairs for me, and their relationship in this final novel is every bit as complicated, sweet, and heartbreaking as it has ever been.
Was Total Eclipse a perfect book? Well…no. Certainly not by any literary or stand alone basis. But it is a fitting, beautiful ending, fraught with heartache and action and danger, to the series. And this is very much my summation for the Weather Warden oeuvre: I could not ask for anything more.
So, to you Joanne Baldwin, I say goodbye. I will miss you so very, very much, and I cannot think of a better way to end this incredible series.
I am overcome with Imperious Feelings demanding that I find the Right Words to write this review. Fly By NOriginal review posted on The Book Smugglers
I am overcome with Imperious Feelings demanding that I find the Right Words to write this review. Fly By Night is Absurdly Brilliant. This is not an overstatement.
How else could I possibly qualify a book that features a main character named Mosca1 Mye whose love for words is both impetus and trademark? Whose love for words is the driving force toward a life of High Adventure in the company of a smooth-talking charlatan named Eponymous Clent and a murderous pet Goose named Saracen? Whose journey takes her through completely unpredictable twists and turns in a political game where no one knows who is ally or foe?
If not brilliant, what other word could I possibly use to describe a book that is defined by original, unusual worldbuilding as well as Impressive Intellectual Sharpness?
With regards to the former: Fly By Night is set in an alternate 18th Century (but not quite) where years ago, after getting rid of its monarchy, the Fractured Realm plunged into a gruesome Civil War when Birdcatchers – a radical religious movement – came to power. Ten years after all Birdcatchers have been killed (or have they?), the Realm is ran by different Guilds of Tradesmen. The Guilds’ power have been growing exponentially, especially that of the Stationers Guild (who control all printing materials, anything without their seal is deemed illegal) ; the Locksmiths Guild (who have the keys to every door) ; and the Watermen Guild (who control all movement along the river). The power balance is precariously held together by a truce between all Guilds and even one small wrong move could start a whole new war. Mosca and Clent (and Saracen) find themselves in the middle of this complex game of power which is complicated by a Duke who is slowly going mad and whose sister has Ideas of Her Own. Not to mention the emergence of an illegal printing press that has been spreading Illegal Radical Words all over the Realm.
The latter comes from the fact that this is a book with a main character who loves words in a world that fears them. Being a book about words – their importance, their potential, their beauty – one of the most brilliant things about it is how the author brandishes her words like Weapons of Mass Construction.
From the Thought Provoking:
Brand a man as a thief and no one will ever hire him for honest labor – he will be a hardened robber within weeks. The brand does not reveal a person’s nature, it shapes it.
Via the Utterly Hilarious:
(…)Mosca and Saracen shared, if not a friendship, at least the solidarity of the generally despised.
All the way to the Extremely Acute:
‘Where is your sense of patriotism?’
‘I kept it hid away safe, along with my sense of trust, Mr Clent. I don’t use ‘em much in case they get scratched.’
And the Plain Beautiful:
‘But in the name of the most holy, Mosca, of all the people you could have taken up with, why Eponymous Clent?’
Because I’d been hoarding words for years, buying them from peddlers and carving them secretly on to bits of bark so I wouldn’t forget them, and then he turned up using words like ‘epiphany’ and ‘amaranth’. Because I heard him talking in the marketplace, laying out sentences like a merchant rolling out rich silks. Because he made words and ideas dance like flames and something that was damp and dying came alive in my mind, the way it hadn’t since they burned my father’s books. Because he walked into Chough with stories from exciting places tangled around him like maypole streamers…
‘He’s got a way with words.’
Fly By Night is a book that provokes, incites and invites the reader to participate in a wordily love-fest. Granted that at times, this comes across as slightly heavy-handed especially towards the ending but this was simply not enough to make any damage to the immense love I feel for this book.
But that is not all! For Fly By Night is also Coming of Age of the Highest Quality. Mosca’s journey is superbly executed by exploring her loneliness, her perceived uniqueness (which is not true at all, given the truths that she unveils) as well as the connections she forms with other people (especially the Cakes. How could I not love the Cakes?). Her arc has moments of Utter Despair, Sad Mistakes as well as Great Bravery.
Most of all, I loved the development of the relationship with Clent and I loved the bond they formed over a shared loved for words (for better or worse). Take this incredible moment where they have a fight:
Mosca’s opening offer was a number of cant words she had heard peddlers use, words for the drool hanging from a dog’s jaw, words for the greenish sheen on a mouldering strip of bacon. Eponymous Clent responded with some choice descriptions of ungrateful and treacherous women culled from ballad and classic myth. Mosca countered with some from her secret hoard of hidden words, the terms used by smugglers for tell-alls, and soldiers’ words for the worst kind of keyhole-stooping spy. Clent answered with crushing and high-sounding examples from the best essays on the natural depravity of unguided youth.
Isn’t this Staggering Good Writing?
I had a lot of fun reading Fly By Night and as you can probably see, a lot of fun writing this review too. I freaking love when that happens, those are the best kind of books. Fly By Night is a Totally Awesome Book and I already got the sequel because one is not enough for me: just like Mosca, I too, want more story. ...more
It was a dark and stormy night (when I started reading The Ghosts of Ashbury High). The rain fell torrentially and the trees outsiOriginal Review HERE
It was a dark and stormy night (when I started reading The Ghosts of Ashbury High). The rain fell torrentially and the trees outside rattled against my window occasionally. The house was silent and I was all alone. The lights in the street were out and I was reading by candlelight (ok, not really, but just go with the flow…). Reader! Hear the truth of my words! I had a strong sense of foreboding and a feeling of impending DOOM right after the first few pages and I felt I could faint at any moment.
And why, do you ask? The ghosts?, were you scared of the ghosts? Yes, Ghosts!!!! I say. I was too scared of the ghosts but no!!!! That sense of impending doom came upon the realisation that this book is INCREDIBLE and that I would have to go and buy Jaclyn Moriarty’s entire backlist, even if that made me bankrupt!! Even if I had to walk the miles to the bookstore in that DARK AND STORMY NIGHT!!!!!!
You know, gothically speaking.
It is the last year of High School for the students at Ashbury High and most of the story takes places during an HSC (High School Certificate in Australia) English exam on the topic of, yes, you guessed right, Gothic Fiction. The students have been asked to write a personal memoir which explores the dynamics of first impressions, drawing on their knowledge of gothic fiction. Thus, the majority of The Ghosts of Ashbury High’s narrative is via that exam question but also with letters, minutes from the school boards’ meetings, IM transcripts, blog entries (another assignment: write about Your Journey Home) interspersed throughout. Most of them alternate between the same four kids’ writings: Riley, Emily, Lydia and Toby and it mostly involves Riley and…Amelia.
“The first time I saw her I knew that my Amelia was a ghost”
Riley and Amelia are new at Ashbury High, a private school for rich and privileged kids, recently transferred from the neighbouring Brookfield public school on scholarships. From the get go Riley and Amelia take over everybody’s imagination with their aloofness, their mysterious comings and goings and their complete, obsessive involvement with each other at the expense of everybody else. Soon, they are excelling at everything: swimming, essay writing, arts. But there is just something not quite right about these two kids…….
I love epistolary novels. I LOVE them, in fact one of my all time favourite books is Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Jaclyn Moriarty made me remember why exactly I love this form of narrative with this excellent novel. Starting with infusing these letters and essays with so much character and voice that it would be easy to recognise which of the characters is writing what even if it wasn’t stated at the beginning of each part. The mysterious, dark Riley; the reliable, deep Toby; the almost serious yet spoiled Lydia; the drama queen Emily.
“It was the first day of Year 12.I had set out that morning with trepidation. I did not, in all honesty, see a crow, a raven, or any other black bird on the way to school that day. And yet! I was trepidatious.”
Those are first impressions dear readers. Because this book is terminally clever: as the kids write their memoirs and starting with their first impressions of Riley and Amelia, we, as readers, are doing the same with the kids. And by the end of the book, none of them are left standing – within the book or within the reader.
It starts very, very light, hilarious even with each of them writing in what they think a Gothic narrative should be (complete with excess of exclamation points!!!!) and because of that, the reader never knows if what we are reading is true or not. Yes, epistolary narrative always has a degree of unreliability because we are wholly dependent on whoever is writing and whether they have chosen to write the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Even what a narrator chose to leave out of its narrative is important. And because there are four distinct narrators, a certain degree of truthfulness always end up making its way into the story. Sometimes they narrate the same event even, from such a completely discrepant point of view and yet both have got to be true somehow.
“There was the first time I saw this exam question. It happened just now. (…) my first impression of this question is that it sucks. Nothing has happened so far to change my mind.”
As the story gains momentum and the plot thickens, I could not turn the pages faster. The story is almost like a farce, definitely gothic (ghosts!), a lot of comedy and so much heartbreak and character growth that I don’t even know how or when it happened but all of a sudden I am not reading the book I thought I was reading when I first set out.
This is a story about rich kids, poor kids, how their surroundings influence and the parenting that each has, shaped their present and possibly the future. About the opportunities the State and life give them (or not), and about abuse and about turning a blind eye to abuse and how adults sometimes suck so much (I could sucker punch the school’s principal if I could after a conversation he has with Emily) and how friendship and resilience and smarts can help with changing things.
That is not all. Somehow in the middle of it, Moriarty manages to go all historical as Toby’s narrative is actually him telling a story of an Irish convict who is sent to Australia when it was still a penal colony. Tom Kindaid’s story intermingles with the other narratives and is as interesting as the rest of it all.
“I have just noticed that the exam question asks for a personal memoir. So you want to hear from me – Toby Mazzerati – not some Irish convict dude named Tom Kinkaid who lived here in 1804. Hence, please disregard the above, and I will start my answer now.Thanks for your time”
And also: BLACK HOLES!!!!
And if you think for a moment that all of this is too much, please trust me when I say this. It is not! I can’t stress that enough!!!! With extra exclamation points!!! It is of UTMOST IMPORTANCE that I get this point across!!!!!! All is flawlessly linked and you only realise that in the EXTRAORDINARY ending when every.Single.Plot.Line comes together and my head exploded (gothically speaking) with the sheer brilliance of this book.
It is imaginative, poignant, heart-warming AND heartbreaking. Hilarious too.
It has awesome GIRLS. Who talk to each other about many, many things other than boys. Although boys are involved and for example, the romance between Lydia and Seb which we see happening via Emily’s narrative (because she is a “student of love”), is amazing. But not as amazing as the girls themselves and how smart, talented yet flawed they are and what they will do for each other and how afraid they are of the future because this is what this book is all about: the future and how to get there and how terrifying that moment between the end of your teenage years and the beginning of your adult life is.
Above all though, this is a book about second chances (for everybody. And I do mean, EVERY SOUL) and how without them there is NO future.
I can’t think of a single thing that does not work in this book and I loved it with every bit of my being (brain and heart!) and I re-read it before writing this review and still it managed to evoke this feeling of greatness and warmth and it is awesome and I URGE you to go and read it. Your life may depend on it!!!!! You know, gothically speaking....more
The world has ended. Nations have fallen. The living are forced to huddle together in isolated pockets while the undead roam the gutted ruins of civilization. In the midst of this hopelessness and endless future of bleak lassitude, one zombie stands apart from his fellow undead. Unable to remember his name, other than the fact that it starts with Rrrr, this young zombie knows nothing about the man he once was. He’s wearing slacks, a button-up, and a silk red tie, so he might have been some kind of professional or aspiring temp worker. He can remember snippets of life, but nothing can fully penetrate the fog of his undead memory. But one thing “R.” knows is that he’s a little different from the others around him. Though speech is hard, R. has no limit to the eloquence of his mind – he laments the loss of humanity and feels intense guilt for the fact that he has to consume the living. But consume he must, because it is only in that consummation does R. catch flashes of emotion, glimpses of feeling; fleeting moments of color and life.
On his latest hunting trip, R. and his fellow zombies find an enclave of humans and proceed with business as usual – but as R. bites into one unfortunate man’s brain tissue, he experiences life more vividly than anything he’s ever seen it before. Reliving some of the young man’s – Perry’s – scattered memories, R. sees a beautiful blonde girl named Julie, and feels Perry’s blush of first love. That same girl, now a young woman, is in the present with R., about to meet the same grisly fate as the rest of the small human group. For the first time, R. feels a need stronger than that for meat and cannot overlook the pangs of his conscience. He makes a choice; to protect Julie. As R. takes Julie back to his ‘home,’ the two talk and learn from each other, and life will never be the same for human and zombie alike.
Together, R. and Julie will change the world.
When I started Warm Bodies, I had high hopes (tempered with caution, because there’s that cynic in me that always wants to butt her ugly head in and derail the fun). But HOLY. FREAKING. CRAP. I loved this book.
Allow me to repeat: I loved this book. I instantly fell in love with R., for his quiet observance, his eloquence, and his will to live (as strange as that may sound). I loved the unconventional love story, the emotional resonance of R. trapped within his rotting body, and the interplay between Perry’s memories and R.’s reality. When I first read the release for this book, I was a little wary because the pitch basically was “Romeo and Juliet! This is EDWARD CULLEN for ZOMBIES!” Eww. No. No no no. It’s not. This is a serious book; it is a poignant story that deserves to be taken seriously. It’s a love story that isn’t gross or hokey (though it easily could have been), that follows a boy that loves a girl and decides to follow her against all odds. I mean, how could you not fall in love with this:
I don’t know what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, or what will happen when it’s done, but at the verry bottom of this rising siege ladder, I at least know I’m going to see Julie again. I know I’m not going to say good-bye. And if these staggering refugees want to help, if they think they see something bigger here than a boy chasing a girl, then they can help, and we’ll see what happens when we say yes while this rigor mortis world screams no.
It is R.’s internal narrative, in his keen yet strange observations, that set the tone of this book and pulls at readers’ heartstrings. And, it is Julie’s brightness and her vividness as a flame of life and hope against an impossibly dreary world that attracts and keep these two unlikely characters together.
From a storytelling perspective, debut novelist Isaac Marion does a fine job of pacing this book, balancing bleak and gritty with hope and love. I loved this imagining of zombies as cognizant beings, with their own society and process of consciousness, as I loved the differentiation between “boneys” and the fleshier, newer zombies like R. or his friend M. Although I do think that the book stumbles in its last act, breaking that careful balancing act between hokey and earnest and tips towards the former with a rather heavy-handed Big Message (i.e. humanity did this to THEMSELVES!), the rest of the novel is so strong that this is forgivable. After all, as Stephen King says, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Right?
I loved this book, truly, madly, deeply. Warm Bodies is one of the most surprising zombie novels I’ve ever read, and easily on the shortlist for one of my favorite books of 2011....more
Rosalinda Fitzroy is the daughter of the most powerful parents in the world. Her mother, a beauty and high society darling, and her father, the CEO of international conglomerate UniCorp, both adore and dote on their obedient, darling little princess. So, when Rose finds herself being awakened by a boy (via mouth to mouth resuscitation, hardly a real Prince Charming kiss), not her usual motherly wakeup with a champagne luncheon, she is terrified and disoriented. Rose learns that she has been in stasis for sixty-four years, and during her long sleep the world has ended and been reborn again. Everyone that Rose has ever known is dead, including her parents and her boyfriend, Xavier. Thrust into a world in which she is an utter outcast, though she is an heiress to an immense fortune (much to the frustration of UniCorp executives and stakeholders), Rose is a stranger in a strange land. Her peers at school avoid her and treat her like a ghost – all except Bren, the boy who found Rose to begin with, and Otto, an alien-human Unicorp genetic experiment who is even more of an outsider than Rose. As Rose struggles to assimilate to her new surroundings, memories and long-dormant, half-forgotten truths begin to surface. Someone is out to hurt her, and she must be able to come to terms with her dark, troubled past in order to survive.
At first glance, A Long Long Sleep seems, and sounds, vaguely familiar. Certainly there are similarities to a slew of soft, so-called SF titles on the young adult market – Beth Revis’s underwhelming Across the Universe immediately comes to mind. BUT A Long Long Sleep has what these other novels do not; namely, characters, patience, and heart. To put it simply: A Long Long Sleep broke my heart. I am not an emotional person, dear readers, so it is a huge thing when I feel truly moved by a book on an emotional level. I loved this book with its myriad complications, messy human emotions, and fragile relationships cast asunder by the ravages of time. Ms. Sheehan’s debut is haunting, fraught with sadness and loss. This book is so very powerful. I will say it again, because sometimes the simplest statement sums up everything:
I loved this book.
For all that it is billed as a Dystopian, post-Apocalyptic novel with a scifi bend, A Long Long Sleep is a character-centric novel. It’s a study of a girl that has been abandoned and left to sleep while the world has been ravaged by war and death, and then reshaped without her. It’s the story of this same girl, who is 100 but has the body and mind of a sixteen year old, who seems passive and bland and immature, but in reality has layers upon layers of hidden depth. It’s the story of this deceptively simple, naive-seeming character, whose complexity is revealed over the course of her narrative, resonating with the power of raw grief, anger, and passion, bottled up over the course of decades in prolonged, chemical slumber.
You see, there’s something wrong with Rose; there’s something about her past that we don’t know right off the bat but suspect from the outset of the novel. This something develops slowly, menacingly over the course of the book, and when we finally learn the truth it’s all the more devastating. It’s devastating because for all that this is a novel set in the future, it’s also a book about relationships and love, about power and abuse and the dark far-ranging damage it can wreak on a child’s psyche. Rose may start the book as a passive, frightened girl, but she grows so much over the course of the novel as she awakens from her protective cocoon of disengagement and becomes the strong young woman she truly is. Rose’s character arc is so very cathartic, and I loved every bit of this thorny, artistic heroine with a troubled past.
What’s even more impressive about this novel, however, is that this depth and nuance of character applies not just to Rose, but to others. The boy that awakens Rose, Bren, has his own depth and realism as a teenage boy and is likeable enough, but the characters that stole my heart were Otto and Xavier. Xavier, Rose’s lost love from her life before being stassed for over sixty-years, and the memories/flashbacks of the strange but loving relationship are haunting and beautiful in equal measure, as their history is immensely revelatory and so very heartbreaking. Not a day goes by that Rose does not think of Xavier and not a day goes by that she does not draw his face in her art. And then, in the present, there’s Otto – the alien-human boy, created by the same corporation that Rose has become heiress to, who cannot speak but can read minds through touch. I loved the relationship that unfolds between Otto and Rose, as outcasts that find comfort in each other. There were so many unexpected turns to this and other relationships, from Rose’s past to her future, with her family and with who she loves.
At its core, this is what A Long Long Sleep is really about: love. Not just romantic love, but all different kinds of love. The love between a parent and child; the kind of selfish love that can be twisted into something ugly and abusive; the rosy glow of first love; the kind of love borne of complete understanding and friendship; and, most importantly of all, the love of oneself.
I know my plain words aren’t enough to do this beautiful book justice, but what I can say is this: I implore each and every person to read this emotionally wrenching, bittersweet journey of a novel. A Long Long Sleep is easily one of the best books I have read in 2011, and I look forward to much more from this promising new author....more
**WARNING: This review contains slight, but unavoidable, spoilers for Ultraviolet. You do not have to have reOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
**WARNING: This review contains slight, but unavoidable, spoilers for Ultraviolet. You do not have to have read Ultraviolet to read Quicksilver, but if you want to be unspoiled for the first book, you should probably start there.**
Three months ago, perfect, popular seventeen year-old Tori Beaugrand disappeared into thin air. And then, just as inexplicably, Tori returns home, bloodied and beaten, but alive and whole.
Tori's disappearance is a mystery to the police and her friends, and she claims that she cannot remember anything of her abduction, or the weeks she was gone. More than anything, Tori wants everyone to forget, and to move on with her life as though nothing has happened.
Of course, the truth isn't so simple. Tori's disappearance is one that spans time and space, her secret one that no one - save for friend Alison and scientist Sebastian Faraday - can ever know. You see, Tori isn't like anyone else on Earth. And now she's being hunted by scientists who want to study her unique DNA, by a rogue cop that can't give up without knowing Tori's story, and by one of her own kind who will stop at nothing to continue his grand experiment.
Tori and her parents uproot themselves, changing their names and their appearances, in the hopes that they can stay safe. Now, Tori is Nikki - a brunette with a pixie cut and dark gray-blue eyes, who is homeschooled and works a part-time job at the local supermarket, trying to keep under the radar. All that goes to hell when Sebastian Faraday shows up in Tori/Nikki's life again, enlisting her help to build a device that could end their trouble once and for all. But to be successful, it will take every ounce of Nikki's unique skills - but more importantly, it means she will have to place her trust in others.
The companion book to 2011's Ultraviolet, Quicksilver is a fantastic science fiction novel from R.J. Anderson. Featuring yet another awesome heroine and a surprisingly high-stakes, unflinching plot, Quicksilver, to put it plainly, rocks. In other words: I loved this book.
As I've noted before, you don't necessarily have had to read Ultraviolet to dive into this book, but I strongly suggest you read that novel first in order to have a fuller understanding of the events and key players in Quicksilver. While Ultraviolet was synesthesiac Alison's book, about her false confession of murder and her institutionalization, Quicksilver tells the story of the girl who Alison supposedly killed - the perfect, beautiful girl who has it all, Tori. Except, Tori doesn't really have it all; in fact, her life is a carefully constructed façade. Adopted as a small child by her loving parents, Tori has always been a bit different - she's got unparalleled skill when it comes to assembling, visualizing and modifying technology, and a knack for memorizing numbers and easily solving complex mathematical problems. But more than her mechanical skills, Tori guards a much deeper secret - she's from a place far, far away, sent to Earth as a baby as a kind of twisted experiment.
Yep, that's right. Just like Ultraviolet before it, Quicksilver is a psychological thriller but it's also firmly a science fiction novel, complete with transporter devices, wormholes, and, yes, that eponymous element of quicksilver. And I'm happy to say that both the science fictional elements and technology elements are executed beautifully. Similarly, from a plotting perspective, Quicksilver rocks. Equal parts fugitive thriller and scifi blockbuster, you could say that this novel is kind of a page-turner. That's not to say that depth is sacrificed for action - quite the contrary. There are betrayals and hidden motives and resonant emotional connections. And the stakes are HIGH, people! The book kicks into high gear and the last quarter of Quicksilver is crazy intense. (In particular, Tori makes a gutsy, terrifying choice in the late chapters of the book and my goodness is it dramatic.)
And then there are the characters. I loved, loved, loved heroine Tori. And now, this COULD be considered a mild spoiler, but I'm divulging anyway because I think it is a vitally important part of (and draw to) the book. That is: main character Tori is an asexual protagonist.
“Milo,” I said, “I’m going to tell you something I’ve only ever told one other person. And when I do, I . . . I hope you’ll understand.” Passionately hoped, in fact. Because if he said any of the things Lara had said to me when I told her, it would be hard to forgive him for it.
“I know,” he said. “You’re gay, right?”
“No,” I said. “I’m not sexually attracted to anyone. At all. Ever.”
Tori's not celibate (which is a choice); she's asexual (a type of sexual orientation).[1. If you want to read more about asexuality, check out www.asexuality.org.] It's rare to come across an asexual protagonist in fiction - especially in YA fiction! - but Anderson does a phenomenal job of carefully portraying Tori's asexuality, without making this Tori's Sole Defining Characteristic, or worse, portraying her asexuality in a superficial or offhand way. I love the careful distinction that shows Tori is a young woman who feels love, and rage, and loneliness - she's not sexually attracted to anyone, but she feels and yearns for emotional connection (I should also note that Tori is asexual but not - to my reading - aromantic). And finally, I love that Tori's asexuality is NOT misunderstood or treated as a part of her unique DNA, or as the result of some childhood trauma, or some other such humbug. I love that author R.J. Anderson directly addresses and refutes this in the book. That is awesome.[2. On that note, R.J. Anderson wrote a great post about Tori's asexuality HERE. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety!]
And you know what else is awesome? Tori's new friend, Milo, is a Korean Canadian, and the book skillfully deals with questions of interracial relationships and pressures, once again without feeling false or superficial. The relationship that unfolds between Tori and Milo is complicated, to say the least, but its one of my favorite YA relationships in a very, very long time. Heck, I'll just come out and say it - Tori and Milo are one of my favorite pairs of characters...ever.
With its skillful genre-busting, plotting and standout characters, Quicksilver is every bit as wonderful as Ultraviolet. Heck, I think I may even love it more than that first book. Absolutely recommended, and in the running for one of my favorite books of 2013. ...more