I was *so* thrilled that this came out here in the UK finally that I snapped it up for my Kobo and ordered a hardcover copy too. And then another hardI was *so* thrilled that this came out here in the UK finally that I snapped it up for my Kobo and ordered a hardcover copy too. And then another hardcover copy for my sister, for Christmas, because I know she'll love it nearly as much as I do. This isn't a novel, but a collection of two short stories and a longer novella, and that format really allows Laini Taylor's extraordinary imagination the freedom to spread its wings. She creates three complete, fully realised fantasy worlds and populates them with vivid, complex and not-always likeable characters who each become simply unforgettable by the end of their stories. The gorgeous illustrations are icing on the cake - although I was sad that they were in black and white, rather than colour (the preview on the Kindle version of the book does show them in colour, and I believe they were coloured in the U.S. hardback too - why so stingy UK publisher?!).
Laini Taylor's writing is intoxicatingly good. It's so good that it's not possible to describe it, really, without sounding gushy and overblown - you want to throw superlatives in there like 'romantic', 'lush' and 'beautiful' but you're still not getting at just what it is that makes this story collection so special. The atmosphere it creates is utterly magical, and every time I had to put it down I felt as if I was still walking around with half my soul existing in a parallel dimension of wicked goblins, tragic curses and howling wolves. I had the sense that every line of Ms. Taylor's prose I absorbed was teaching me something, whether it's how to contrast whimsy and terror, or how to use contemporary language to understate horror, or how to let lyricism off the leash without losing control of it. My favourite of these stories is the final one, the longest, and I hope and pray that the writer may one day return to that world; although in fact any of the settings, any of the characters utilised here, could easily support a full length book. If you only buy one new book before the end of this year, make Lips Touch the one....more
She never chose her deadly gift but now she’s forced to use it. How far would you go to protect the only family you have left?
Annie is besetThe Blurb:
She never chose her deadly gift but now she’s forced to use it. How far would you go to protect the only family you have left?
Annie is beset by fleeting strange visions and a guilty conscience. Blind and orphaned, she struggles to care for her feisty younger sister Fia, but things look up when both sisters are offered a place at Kessler School for Exceptional Girls.
Born with flawless intuition, Fia immediately knows that something’s wrong, but bites her tongue… until it’s too late. For Fia is the perfect weapon to carry out criminal plans and there are those at Kessler who will do anything to ensure her co-operation.
With Annie trapped in Kessler’s sinister clutches, instincts keep Fia from killing an innocent guy and everything unravels. Is manipulative James the key to the sisters’ freedom or an even darker prison? And how can Fia atone for the blood on her hands
This book took me completely by surprise. I'd started the first book of the author's bestselling trilogy (PARANORMALCY) with a lot of excitement, but some quality in the writing simply didn't gel for me, and I ended up skimming through most of it and then skipping to the end. I've never picked up any of the others.
However, having read Ms. White's stories on her blog about how this book ripped itself out of her in just nine days, I was intrigued. The blurb mentioned that this was a 'stunning departure' for the writer - her PARANORMALCY trilogy is, judging by the first book, extremely light and cutesy in tone, like a sort of junior-Buffy, with some of the humour but not much darkness - and you guys know I love it when an author tries something really different. Plus, both editions of the book have great covers.
UK Cover: is that Christina Ricci, or is it just me?
U.S. Cover: pretty colours!
So when the UK edition popped up on NetGalley I requested it and started it straight away. I read the whole thing through in a matter of about three hours. It's not a long book, but the main reason for the speed is the absolutely gripping narrative voice of Fia, a psychically gifted young woman who has been held captive, abused, and used as an operative of assassination and espionage since she was literally a child. Fia is messed up. Not in a cute, teenage, emo-angsty sort of way, but in a she-might-just-snap-and-kill-herself-or-you-at-any-moment sort of way. And as the author unwinds the story of how Fia came to be in this position, you are hit right in the heart by everything she's been through, and come to deeply empathise with her.
Fia's sections in this book (she shares POV duties with her older sister Annie, who I'll get to later) are written in a broken present-tense which reads almost like stream of consciousness at times, and which very cleverly introduces you to the frantic, agonised place that is Fia's head. The book starts in the present - the moment when Fia does snap, but in the sense of being unable to follow her murderous orders any longer - and then utlises a non-linear structure of extended flashbacks which jump from Fia's childhood to various horrific episodes from her growing up years.
Fia is a strong personality, a smart and resourceful child who has a perfect intuition. In any situation she will not only know exactly what action she and every other person present should take in order to serve her best interest, she will also have a sense of the consequences of every other action they could take, both short and long term. This is completely natural to her, a sort of 'knowing' that flashes sensory warnings in her brain a little like synesthesia. Unfortunately, convincing others - like her older sister, Annie - to take her 'feelings' seriously is pretty hard for a kid. This means Fia is constantly forced into situations where everything inside her is screaming NO, and yet she has no choice but to go along with other people's (flawed) choices.
This would be tough enough for any kid. But, left to herself, Fia would clearly have grown up into a responsible and highly successful adult - one of those golden girls who somehow land on their feet in every situation and end up owning half the free world. Sadly for Fia, after her parents are killed in a car crash, one of Annie's decisions places both of them in the Kessler School for Gifted Girls. And it all goes downhill from there, as Kessler are less a school and more a boot camp for psychics, where they are trained to suppress their consciences, follow orders, and accept the 'perks' of using their powers to ruin other people's lives for Kessler's gain.
Kessler are initially after Annie's ability. Annie is blind - although there's no medical reason for this - but she is a seer, tormented by splintered visions of possible futures. Her prediction of her parent's deaths lead to an article in a newspaper which drew Kessler's attention. Annie - struggling in her local school, which doesn't have the budget to provide her with the advanced learning aids she wants - and under the indifferent guardianship of the girls aunt, falls under the spell of the Kessler representative who promises her that if she becomes a boarding student at the school she will have every high-tech gadget and every possible assistance to overcome her disability.
Fia knows instinctively that trusting Kessler is the absolute worst thing Annie can do. She begs her sister not to go - and when the representative realises just how and why she is reacting this way, Kessler's attention snaps onto her, and they offer her a place alongside her sister. Annie, determined to leave the custody of her aunt, and the school that she doesn't feel is helping her, not only ignores Fia's warnings but also persuades Fia to accept the place and come with her.
And this is the start of Fia's nightmare. Within a very short time the little girl is being beaten bloody, slashed up with knives, electrocuted - all to test and strengthen her unique ability. With the constant training in every possible martial art and method of killing the fragile child becomes an almost unstoppable killer - in any fight she knows exactly where to move, how to duck, block, slash, run or turn in order to preserve her own life. The fight scenes were heart-wrenching and eerie to read; watching a little girl shatter emotionally even as she's forced to hurt others. It's not that Fia can't get hurt herself. She does, repeatedly. But if she wants you dead - needs you dead - it's basically impossible for her not to kill you. That is her terrible gift.
Kessler soon decide that Annie's talents are mediocre - but at first they carefully shield her from this knowledge because they realise that as long as they hold her in their facility, Fia will be forced not only to stay and to follow their orders, but also to resist her talent's call to destroy them all.
So far, so fantastic. This set-up is vaguely reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones' HEXWOOD, and I loved it. But something kept me from fully embracing this book and dubbing it a new favourite. And that something was Annie herself.
I can see why Annie was given POV duties here. The narrative isn't quite shared 50/50, but Annie's sections are weighty because they're written in a much clearer and more straightforward style, provide subtle yet much needed exposition which stitches the flashbacks into a cohesive whole, and offer insight into Fia from the outside. They offer a break from the distinctive, frenetic pace of Fia's mind.
What they also do, unfortunately, is to distance us from Fia's world and her story just a little too much. While Fia is fracturing, killing, dying, Annie is sitting in her very comfortable home, drinking herbal tea, and worrying. Throwing tantrums at other people who she believes (rightly!) don't care about her sister. Worrying some more. She's the classic princess, trapped in the tower, waiting for rescue to come. Even at the very end of the story when everything is swirling through Fia's brain like an insane kaleidoscope and everything was changing, Annie's sections remained static and dull. What's more, for me Annie was also extremely unlikeable.
Nine out of ten people may disagree with me here, as Annie was clearly written to be sympathetic. She's sweeter and kinder and saner than Fia, wracked with guilt over everything that Fia has gone through and desperate to help her sister in some way. But... she doesn't. Ever. In fact, everything Annie does seems to make Fia's life worse. Annie's refusal to listen to Fia in the beginning when Fia warns her about Kessler, and the emotional blackmail that forced Fia to go to the school too, came from a strange sense of privilege within the narrative. Poor Annie can't help it. Annie's soft and weak. Annie's blind. She needs to be looked after - even if that means her younger sister has to beat someone to death with a chair and then have a nervous breakdown.
For a very long time Annie remained wilfully ignorant of the extreme abuse being heaped on her sister. Fia was limping around covered in stab wounds and bruises and electrical burns, barely talking, never attending lessons other than ones in killing, hardly eating, but Annie's POV asks us to believe that Annie just didn't know. Because she couldn't *see* Fia - and Fia didn't come out and tell her.
I don't care if Annie couldn't physically see that Fia was being tortured; not noticing that your sister has gone from a strong, clever, funny little girl to suicidal zombie-creature who spends her days fighting for her life while longing for death is a bit of a stretch. Annie says she knew her sister wasn't happy but was so caught up in her own academic advancements that she didn't understand how deep that unhappiness went. But - as I'm sure the husbands, children, girlfriends and co-workers of the thousands of blind people who live full, active lives all over the world today could attest - being blind doesn't magically make it impossible to tell the difference between a sulky kid who isn't fitting in at boarding school and a child who has been abused to the point where her sanity has fractured.
This disconnect between what the narrative clearly wants us to feel about poor, sad, blind Annie who just can't help herself or anyone else, and what I actually felt - that if Annie had a single fibre of backbone she would have thrown herself out of the nearest window and set Fia free - made it tough to like the book as much as I would have otherwise, because Annie was always there, meebling and moaning and failing to do anything. I could understand why Fia didn't march into the nearest Police Station and tell all. But Annie was allowed to go shopping with 'friends' from inside Kessler. Why didn't she stop in the middle of a department store and scream until someone called the authorities and they took her away? Even if they hadn't believed her, that brief window might have been enough for Fia to escape. It seemed as if Annie's blindness was the excuse - a sort of unacknowledged, nebulous sense that someone with a disability can't be expected to actually be active or useful. That was very problematic for me.
Despite this issue, however, I did like SISTER ASSASSIN a lot. It was a surprising, daring and unexpected book that offered me one of the most compelling characters I've met in years - Fia - and which didn't shy away from the darkest implications of the story events it had set up. The book ends with a quite satisfying resolution, but there are a lot of loose ends still whipping about and plenty of exciting places that Ms. White could take Fia and her new partner in crime (not telling! Spoilers!) in the next volume, which the author's website says will be out next year (2014). Unlike with the author's earlier books I will be pouncing on it eagerly the moment it hits shelves.
If you see SISTER ASSASSIN in your local bookshop, give it a try. ...more
In a desert world of sandstorms and sand-wolves, a teen girl must defy the gods to save her tribe in this mystical, atmospheric tale froThe Synopsis:
In a desert world of sandstorms and sand-wolves, a teen girl must defy the gods to save her tribe in this mystical, atmospheric tale from the author of Drink, Slay, Love.
Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. The goddess will inhabit Liyana’s body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But Liyana’s goddess never comes. Abandoned by her angry tribe, Liyana expects to die in the desert. Until a boy walks out of the dust in search of her.
Korbyn is a god inside his vessel, and a trickster god at that. He tells Liyana that five other gods are missing, and they set off across the desert in search of the other vessels. For the desert tribes cannot survive without the magic of their gods. But the journey is dangerous, even with a god’s help. And not everyone is willing to believe the trickster god’s tale.
I shouldn't think it's a surprise that, having seen the cover and read the synopsis of this book, I was excited and intrigued. It's a non-European inspired setting and it deals with gods and faith and has what sounds like a strong heroine; all very much my bag. Plus, it all reminded me a little bit of one of my absolute favourite YA fantasies, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, which also has a desert setting and depicts the interference of god into human lives.
However, that level of interest also made me feel a tiny bit wary because it would be so easy for this book to let me down. I hesitated over buying the ebook for a few days, then finally bit the bullet and downloaded it to take with me on my journey last Friday.
I did not regret it. From the very first line this story caught me up and refused to let my attention go. Get a load of this:
"On the day she was to die, Liyana walked out of her family's tent to see the dawn. She buried her toes in the sand, cold from the night, and she wrapped her father's goatskin cloak tight around her shoulders. She had only moments before everyone would wake."
Right?! Who could put the book down after THAT?
Sarah Beth Durst's world-building is a thing of wonder - beautifully subtle, with almost no noticeable exposition, but a sense of immersiveness that makes her setting just shine off the pages. The mention of glass dragons and sand wolves might make you think you were going to get something quite whimsical and surreal; in fact, that's not the case at all. The unnamed desert land within which almost all of the story takes place actually has a very gritty, real quality.
Through the main character Liyana's intense, sensory experiences of life in her beloved desert, and through the stories that Liyana trades with and is told by others throughout the book, we get a rich sense of a living, breathing environment - of the beauty and terror of shifting sands, endless skies and isolated oases - and of a textured, evolving culture that is clearly influenced by many of the cultures of this world, but in a really interested and respectful way.
Speaking of Liyana? Well, I'd read a couple of reviews that stated Liyana was hard to empathise with or that she was - you know - that word. The one that ends in Mary and finishes with Sue? Grghgh. Fools! Fools! Liyana is precisely the kind of heroine that I love to read about, and which YA fantasy needs more of! She is a person, not a stereotype! She is flawed, yet awesome! I loved her!
The protagonist of the novel is truly strong, not just because she is a sensible, capable young woman with hard won survival skills and a badass knife made out of the scale of a glass dragon. Liyana has the kind of high moral bravery that motivates women here in the real world to achieve astonishing everyday feats and make humbling sacrifices in order to keep their families safe and fed. But in the midst of her sense of duty and purpose - and her quest, which is literally a matter of life and death for her people - Liyana is also always willing to listen, to learn, and to reassess the facts as needed. I loved her subtle, dry sense of humour and her unwillingly soft heart that causes her to care even for her enemies.
After being abandoned by her family and her tribe, Liyana is torn by conflicting emotions. Soon everything that she knows about her Gods and her own purpose in life is turned upside down, and she's facing truly fearful dilemmas, choices that will affect not only her own life but the lives of everyone and everything she cares about. While her turmoil is sensitively portrayed, the book never strays into over-emotionalism (wish I knew how to get that balance right) and it was a real treat to read about a young woman who both felt things deeply and was also able to override her emotions and act ruthlessly when necessary.
Without spoiling too much (the synopsis there is carefully devoid of details) I will say that Vessel provided me with one of the few romantic storylines I've read lately which actually eluded labels or predictability. I don't think predictability is always a bad thing, by the way, but it was really intriguing to be faced with a situation in which I not only couldn't *guess* how things were going to end up, but also couldn't make up my mind how I *wanted* them to end up. I was surprised and delighted by the ending.
I was also really satisfied by the way that the plot developed. The book was well paced - no long stretches of boredom, or even any places where my attention wavered for a page or two. And it may have been a result of reading an ebook, which made it impossible to really judge just where I was in the story, but I loved the fact that just when I thought we'd gotten to the end and the quest was complete, it turned out that nothing was as simple as that, and everything Liyana (and I!) had assumed was going to unfold at that point... didn't. That's not an easy trick to pull off!
VESSEL is one of the most interesting and well-written YA high fantasies that I've read the ages. I recommend it to anyone who likes the books of Rae Carson, Tamora Pierce, or, in fact, me :)...more
You have half our gifts, I have the other . . . When English girl Sky, catches a glimpse of bad boy Zed in her new American high school,THE SYNOPSIS:
You have half our gifts, I have the other . . . When English girl Sky, catches a glimpse of bad boy Zed in her new American high school, she can't get him out of her head. He talks to her with his thoughts. He reads her mind. He is the boy she will love for ever. Dark shadows stalk her past but a new evil threatens her future. Sky must face the dark even if it means losing her heart.
I'd probably give this one 3.5 or 3.75. It's an entertaining and competently written addition to the over-crowded paranormal romance genre, which, despite my well-honed cynicism, I found surprisingly touching.
Sixteen year old Sky Bright (cringe) and her wacky artistic adopted parents move from the UK to a small ski town in Colorado for their work. Sky initially comes across as mentally fragile and vulnerable, with fractured and buried memories from a traumatic early childhood and years in foster care. Although she's happy with her parents, she's unhappy about the move, uncertain if it will be possible for her to fit in so far from home.
However, it soon becomes clear that although Sky may be cute, tiny and shy (and saddled with a name so twee that even the other character's repeated mocking of it doesn't make me forgive the author), she's anything but a fluffy bunny. Beneath her shyness and the scars caused by her past, she shows intelligence and courage, and these develop, along with her supernatural powers, thoughout the story, making her a sympathetic and worthy lead.
The romantic lead of the story, Zed, starts out as a something of a stereotype (leather-clad bad boy with a mean attitude and a permanent sneer, as Sky points out) but shakes off the bad-boy image fairly early on. His own emotional vulnerability due to his family's work is a welcome added dimension, and his unashamed 'soppiness' makes me like him, but I still didn't feel that I got to know him as well as Sky. I'm told there may be more installments (and in fact despite the plot resolution the story feels pretty open-ended) in which case I look forward to getting to see Zed in action as something more than a typical over-protective boyfriend.
The secondary characters here are excellent, ranging from the well-developed artistic parents with their absent-minded yet shiningly sincere love for their daughter, to Sky's best friends who each have their own quirks and ambitions, to Zed's family who (what with two parents and seven brothers) got the short end of the straw when it came to development despite being some of the most intriguing people in the story (I heart Uriel).
The spooky tone of the blurb led me to expect a certain kind of story, one with some horrific elements, but the plot of FINDING SKY is really more of a conventional action story than fantasy. The talents exhibited by the villains were seriously creepy, but after a strong introduction the implications were played down to the point that they felt almost extraneous. The same effects could have been achieved, as one character later suggests, by drugs or hypnotism. This may have been a deliberate choice on the author or her editor's part, but it seemed a shame to me. I like to be freaked out. Still, it at least it wasn't vampires or werewolves behind all the shenanigans - it's nice to see humans getting a good innings for once!
The main reason my rating isn't higher for this one is that I felt that the story kept me at something of a distance. My friends and I were recently talking about how sometimes when you're working on a story you become convinced it's all too 'small' - that there's just nothing dramatic enough going on to justify a full book. This book displays the opposite problem. Although the prose is polished and notably lacking in the annoying romantic cliches that plague much paranormal YA writing, the lack of sensory detail made events that should have been terrifying and dramatic feel 'small', and rather far away. Ms Stirling seems to be a debut author which leads me to hope further books in the series may improve in this department and give me the thrills I'm truly longing for.
In any case, if you're in the mood for a YA paranormal romance that doesn't drive you up the wall with unneccessary angst, a 2D sparkly hero or a TSTL heroine, FINDING SKY may be a refreshing read for you....more
I really, really liked this! It felt very much like reading - not a manga, but a skillfully written novelisation of a beloved anime. It made me feel hI really, really liked this! It felt very much like reading - not a manga, but a skillfully written novelisation of a beloved anime. It made me feel homesick for Japan and I've never even lived there. Some beautiful messages about grief and love, and a suitably dark, angsty streak that appealed to my emo side, plus great writing and characters. Good stuff. Recommended....more
I must be the last person in the whole world to read this, but I'll go ahead and throw my two cents in anyway. Again, I fell in love with the snarky,I must be the last person in the whole world to read this, but I'll go ahead and throw my two cents in anyway. Again, I fell in love with the snarky, bleak, broken voice of our narrator, Briony - it was clear from pretty much the first page that she was an utterly unreliable narrator, but equally clear that *she* didn't know this. I love both her, and the cast of characters around her, some of whom revealed hidden depths by the end of the book - others of whom simply became more who they had seemed to be at the beginning, which I thought was a nice touch. In real life, after all, some people really ARE just exactly what you think they are when you first meet them.
One of the great strengths of the book, aside from that marvellous Briony voice, is the setting of the Swampsea, which felt completely real to me as someone who lives on the edge of a boggy saltmarsh. I also loved the richly textured, tattered backdrop of myths and fairystories and legends - many of which, of course, turn out to be frighteningly real. At times the town setting felt a bit threadbare in comparison, with scenes that could/should have been colourful and lively, such as Briony's fight in the town square ending up feeling a bit 'talking heads'. I wonder, actually, if that was a conscious choice on the part of the author, making the magical swamp feel much more real by comparison.
Sadly, I felt that the ending of the novel let it down. Without giving away spoilers, a certain character abruptly acts in a way that completely changes our understanding of who he is - and then proceeds to blame it on Briony (who is far too ready to take the blame, as we've seen throughout the entire book). This scenario feels entirely familiar to someone who's read about rape culture, as does the fact that this male character's pain over what he's done is treated as far more important than the heroine's pain at he's done to her. He's instantly forgiven so that the story can have a conventionally happy ending. All this left me feeling betrayed and bruised on the heroine's behalf. I think I can understand why that scene was there and what the writer intended - to shed a light of human frailty on a character who might otherwise have seemed too good to be true - but the method used and the pat wrap-up just didn't work for me, and nearly ruined an otherwise brilliant story.
I think I'd still recommend this, but with a trigger warning that there are problematic elements. ...more
What an astonishing book! A pitch-perfect teenage voice meets devastating emotional insight, all slyly concealed in elegantly spare prose. I saw partWhat an astonishing book! A pitch-perfect teenage voice meets devastating emotional insight, all slyly concealed in elegantly spare prose. I saw part of myself in every character, uncomfortable as it was. Contemporary fiction at its best. ...more
OMG! So many feels. Why is it so hard to write a coherant review when there are so many FEELS? This book reminds me of The Silver Kiss and Blood and COMG! So many feels. Why is it so hard to write a coherant review when there are so many FEELS? This book reminds me of The Silver Kiss and Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, and I really can't say fairer than that. ...more