Flappy-eared, double-nosed, telepathic aliens, music, danger, time-travel, friendship in unexpected places, searching for your roots, futuristic futur...moreFlappy-eared, double-nosed, telepathic aliens, music, danger, time-travel, friendship in unexpected places, searching for your roots, futuristic futures, Blade-Runner-style bars, gut-wrenching loneliness, highly-original, tongue-in-cheek twists, bluesy sadness, snarky humor. Wow. Just my kind of sci-fi. This my second five-star-read within eight days. I feel so lucky - kind of like overdosed on "Bliss-sticks". Thank you, all you Goodreaders who have been - voluntarily or involuntarily - pushing this at me. Especially Flannery, who sent me her copy (which is now at Janina's - long story).(less)
This is it, the moment I had feared: I am sitting in front of my computer and frown. I am scrutinizing the small list of all-time-favorites displayed...moreThis is it, the moment I had feared: I am sitting in front of my computer and frown. I am scrutinizing the small list of all-time-favorites displayed on my Goodreads profile. And I know one of them has to go. It is a sad step, but inevitable. For Where She Went is simply that overwelmingly good. I really, really loved If I Stay and I anticipated the sequel from Adam's point of view like a druggie longs for his next shot, but I still wasn't prepared for the bone-shattering impact. For the turmoil of Adam's emotions after Mia dumped him without even the hint of an explanation, his fame with his band "Shooting Star" and his utter loneliness, angst and despair, his trying to go on, to cope, to cheat himself, for my strong urge to wring Mia's pretty, slender neck when the two of them meet again by fate or chance and she cheerily treats him like someone nice but essentially irrelevant from her former, pre-Julliard life.
About 30 minutes have passed since I closed the book with a soft snap and looked snotty-nosed and leaky-eyed up to my hesitant husband, who tip-toed around me not sure if mentioning breakfast to me would be in the range of acceptable things at that particular state of after-reading-shock. He has fed me rolls and mango marmelade and I have returned near enough to earth to write this review and to make the choice mentioned above.
So, seriously, if you haven't considered buying this book but are positive that a good book in your book does not indispensably have to include a paranormal creature, a murder or the end of our civilization, Do Consider Now. Reading the precessor from Mia's point of view is certainly beneficial, but not necessary.
An afterthought: Reading a six-star-plus book like this makes me wonder again why publishers choose to buy manuscripts that will inevitably balance out to be raved about by a few, hated by a lot and treated like cheap, disposable tights by most: They last a night of fun and are used to polish boots or given to the perpetually broke flatmate or sister afterwards. Dear agents and editors: Please hold out patiently. Read books like this one, repeat after me: "The real thing is out there." and keep your eyes wide open. Otherwise I'll hold you responsible for my misplaced time.
TBR Pile Reduction Challenge 2011, Book #15 (challenger = Nomes)(less)
I can't really comprehend that I am sitting here pressing determinedly the five-star-button - in spite of the first chapters, which obviously have bee...moreI can't really comprehend that I am sitting here pressing determinedly the five-star-button - in spite of the first chapters, which obviously have been patched together rather sloppily and almost caused me to switch books with one click on my Kindle, ... and in spite of the undeniable cliffy. Yet - here I am am doing precisely that and feeling completely comfortable with it.
Really, at the beginning I had the fleeting, horrible impression my paranormal "favorite" Infinite Days would manage to catch up with me. The cruel, excitement-addicted, immortal heroine - unable to feel for mere mortals - and her gang of equally shiny, but worthless companions, who break a taxi driver's spine for fun. I got very angry about repetitive sentences that should have been edited away and I moaned about unbelievable scenarios like an immortal girl hiding a burn-mark from her best friend under a scarf for over a hundred years - in spite of drunken and drugged party nights, shared hotel rooms and beach holidays, or like the same girl being shocked about said best-friend's pleasure at causing someone deadly pain. As if it would be possible to hide a personality this rotten for over a century from someone that close to you.
I held out and was rewarded with 180-degrees-style improvement. From the moment Natasya boarded the plane in order to leave her old life behind, the nasty crinkles smoothed out and the story enfolded beautifully in front of my eyes. And Natasya/Lilja "magickally" wormed herself into a cosy nook of my heart - the one reserved for heroines, who are prickly and nasty and damaged on the outside, but hurt and helpless and lovable deep within.
"Immortal Beloved" could probably be described as a cross between Rachel's Holiday, Secrets of Truth and Beauty and maybe Succubus Blues. It is the story of a girl whose long, long life has made her unable to feel attachment, unable to sleep without "self-medication", unable to decide for herself what she really wants. It is a story of a girl at the point of no return. A girl who turns herself in at a rehabilitation center for wayward immortals, because she vaguely remembers a woman inviting her 50 years ago to come and stay with her should she hit the bottom end of things and change her mind. The rehab plot unexpectedly uncovered some very interesting strings of thought about the burdens of immortality, but also about a fulfilled life in general. That might have easliy turned into something preachy-soppy, but Natasya's own snarky, sceptical attitude and her ongoing inner monologue fueled by exaggeration lightens the mood and gives her stay at "River's Edge" a pretty hilarious note.
I was really relieved not to have to read about the hot-hot-hot love-interest without reprieve. He is of the - in my opinion - hot sort and I began to look forward to Natasya's encounters with him (nothing like enemies falling for each other hard, isn't there), but I was glad that the romance was not taking over the already interesting story as soon as the potential supernatural heartbreaker made his first entrance.
I have to say, I not only guessed the connection between Natasya and Reyn, I really knew when she implied that his face looked familiar. But at that point I did not mind anymore. I was too much enamoured already to care.
So. Same as with Die for Me for instance, falling in love with this book has been an entirely individual process that cannot be easily explained by check-marking off its shining points. Thus it makes recommending it to all my friends a tricky thing. I won't do it to be on the safe side. I certainly do not want to be lynched. But realize that maybe you are missing out on something rather satisfying and heart-cuddling.
I, for my part, crave to read the sequel now. But ... I, too, know what a sequel can do to a lovely story (exasperated sigh). (less)
The third installment of my very favorite fairy and steampunk series featuring my favorite cat ever and the cutest Gremlin alive ... I loved The Iron...moreThe third installment of my very favorite fairy and steampunk series featuring my favorite cat ever and the cutest Gremlin alive ... I loved The Iron King and just liked The Iron Daughter. The typical consequence following the law of paranormal trilogies would be that I tolerated The Iron Queen - for old times' sake. But no - I got to be surprised (although I sometimes feel so unsurprisable): In most parts I liked The Iron Queen almost as much as The Iron King and in some parts (i.e. the number of Grimalkin dialogues, the multiple, fantastic steampunk elements, the Puck-and-Ash-banter and Meghan's personal growth) I think it even surpassed it in my eyes.
Before reading The Iron Queen my guess about The Iron Knight/Ash's story was that we would be told some ancient story about his former self wooing Ariella or losing his soul or growing a heart or battling his brothers, but now I am pretty positive that Julie Kagawa is going to treat us with a narration of what happens after The Iron Queen - in Ash's point of view. I cross my fingers that I am right. There has to be a way.
And please, Mrs. Kagawa, write some awsome new series on the side, won't you? I bet it will relax you in the evenings after hours of tweaking Ash's musings and Puck's teasings.
Ohhh ... and I forgot: TBR Pile Reduction Challenge 2011, Book #8 (challenger = Jessica)(less)
This is one of those books I would not have read without the "help" of Goodreads. A lot of my friends here had been reading it last year and discussed...moreThis is one of those books I would not have read without the "help" of Goodreads. A lot of my friends here had been reading it last year and discussed it again and again. It made me curious and I picked up a battered and cheap copy at some point thinking "Well, at this price it won't hurt to give it a go". After the purchase my poor copy slumbered for a few months on my to-read shelf - wedged between constantly changing neighbors whose attention-clamoring-skills were somehow better attuned to my appetite. The book was brave, though. It hung patiently on to its backseat-position and awaited its turn with unwavering faith in its own secret superiority. Which it has proven: I was challenged to read this book by my Goodreads friend Tina last week. With a firm finger she pointed at "Water for Elephants" leaving no doubt that it would be just the thing I needed to savor. She was absolutely right. What a delightful novel! What an unexpected and wonderful ending. It was the kind of ending readers like me always secretly hope for but know that most authors are too chicken to produce because the literary world might label them sentimental, fairytale-addicted or unrealistic.
Thank you, Tina, for picking this out for me and thank you, Morgan, for scolding me months ago when we were sharing photos of our TBR piles at the Corner.
TBR Pile Reduction Challenge 2011 Book #4 (challenger: Tina)
'Hi,' he says. 'Hi,' she says back, and then to her great surprise, she begins to cry. 'You know,' Nick says as he hands her a tissue from the bedside t...more'Hi,' he says. 'Hi,' she says back, and then to her great surprise, she begins to cry. 'You know,' Nick says as he hands her a tissue from the bedside table,' for all this talk about how you don't cry, you sure are sprouting a lot of water.'
This could be a conversation between me and one of my friends: What is is with me and my dripping eyes lately? I always used to read reviews of books I loved but survived with all my lashes still encased in an immaculate layer of mascara and wonder what made my fellow readers' tears spill when I didn't even feel the tell-tale burning. "The Comeback Season" is the third book this year already that had me sniffing almost non-stop and my husband, who tried to practice a really difficult piece on the guitar, to cluck his tongue with slightly annoyed pity.
Jennifer E. Smith has this very distinct voice. I've admired it already in You Are Here. It peels away your protective layers and rubs an already sore spot.
I wanted so badly to say to Ryan, the fifteen-years-old heroine, that things would get back on track eventually, but I knew she wouldn't listen to me. In contrast to her mom, who remarried, and her sister Emily, who was only three in the year of the accident, Ryan ist still not able to go forward with her life. Her view is directed back. She longs for a chance to turn back the dial to the pre-loss era of her family and resents her mom for changing dad-induced family traditions and trying to be happy with tea-drinking insurance guy and golfer Kevin. Somehow Ryan broke apart from her two best friends, who shielded and comforted her during her dark times, but made up their minds to work hard at scoring in-crowd spots at High School lately. When newcomer Nick, a fan of the underdog baseball team, the Cubs, too, actively seeks out Ryan's company inspite of his own popularity, Ryan holds back - already too used to be alone, to munch over this season's possibilities for the Cubs and her dad's would be predictions and bargains: Dad had the habit to promise outrageous things (like becoming a part-time vegetarian or walking to work) to fate should the Cubs win a game. As Ryan dares to give in to Nick's perstistent attempts at friendship - and romance - but detects a terrible secret, she spontaneously offers her own Cubs-related bargain to the baseball-gods - inspite of Nick insisting he does not believe in luck and dad's voice saying that losing points is the fun of a game, because "You never know when there might be a comeback". (view spoiler)[Jennifer E. Smith does the (in my eyes) inforgivable in this book: Until the last page we do not know if Ryan's desperate hope will be rewarded. We do not even know if Nick is still alive half a year later. As a consolation price we are offered a new addition to the family in form of a baby and a kind of experimentally forward-looking Ryan. (hide spoiler)] I wracked my brain after finishing to read and after erasing the last traces of my tears if the amount of offered hope and the degree of positive changes in the heroine's view on life had made the cut of what I demand from an outstanding book. I had to admit they didn’t really, but I am still puzzlingly satisfied and need to press the five-stars button. What on earth happened to my loathing of overly sad stories? Can you tell me?
I recommend to read this book.
TBR Pile Reduction Challenge 2011 Book #5 (challenger: Tina)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
4.5 stars. The spaceship Goodspeed is on its 300 years long journey to an inhabitable planet, Centauri-Earth. On board are about hundred specialists a...more4.5 stars. The spaceship Goodspeed is on its 300 years long journey to an inhabitable planet, Centauri-Earth. On board are about hundred specialists and their families (bio-engineers, tacticians, sociologists) stored as frozen human cargo in the deep and forgotten bowels of the huge vessel as well as two and a half thousand common inhabitants, who either research plants, weather and livestock for the future socialization or farm and produce goods for the small community. Since an obscure past event referred to as "The Plague" severed all connections to Sol-Earth and decimated the breathing population, the on-board democracy has been replaced by a the firm rule of a string of single and almighty rulers, who control access to the Earth's (tampered with) and the ship's (partly hazy) history, the use of cameras, the knowledge about what sleeps in the storage chambers, and who exchanged random reproduction for a system of one mating season per generation. The present ruler, Eldest, appears to be reluctant to share his vast knowledge with his still teen-aged successor, Elder, but emphasizes that the greatest dangers to a surviving society are differences between the members and lack of leadership. Slighted and unsatisfied Elder snoops around and discovers the already melting Amy, who is not only non-essential to the ship's mission (aka disposable if in the way), but also red-headed, pale and a powerful threat to Eldest's omnipotence. Elder's world view is shaken up: What else has been hidden from him and who is attempting to murder those who represent the pathway to a successful settlement?
When I compare "Across the Universe" to Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder, which also takes place in a small, confined and heavily controlled world/eco-system, I have to say I prefer "Inside Out". But, nonetheless, I loved "Across the Universe", too, and look forward to reading the sequel next year, because ...
- It kept me glued to the pages to that extent that I was ripping my eyes open again and again last night while my husband already snored through his third dream or so - I am a sucker for multi-point-of-view-stories, especially those switching between a boy and a girl - I really love on-board-of-spaceship-novels that do not primarily deal with war (I also recommend Startide Rising and I greedily wait for Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue to be delivered to my postbox) - I enjoyed that Beth Revis did not deliver a soppy romance in a thin and superficial space-travel wrapping, but a thrilling space mystery with fantastic world building and a pleasant sprinkling of boy-girl-attraction. - The characters - even the side-crew - were well-defined, hard-angled and interesting - Think-worthy questions about leadership, free will and the perfect socialization are touched on the way without offering simple answers.
I recommend this piece of dystopian young adult fiction and say "Beth, bring on the sequel! You've earned all that praise." (less)
Oh, this book has exhausted me. During the second half I cried so much that I was getting concerned about dehydration. I think I have to drink two lit...moreOh, this book has exhausted me. During the second half I cried so much that I was getting concerned about dehydration. I think I have to drink two liters of water or juice now to compensate for all the tears I've shed. I am not sure why Bindy has moved me so much. She has this kind of different view of the world and she is so supersmart. She wants her worthless father and her busy mom to take the time to respond to her mails to help her decide and she is so very lonely. It felt like watching someone through his own opera glass and thus understanding basically what makes that someone tick, yet seeing what that someone cannot see: That she is living her life, apart from the rest of humanity, in a parallel universe. For example when Bindy, in her own focused strange way cooks up ways to help her school-mates to gain better grades and to get on with their lives (aka fighting their inner "teenage monsters"), but nobody is able to grasp what she is doing and why. So Bindy's attempts at being charitable and good disintegrate into smoke and make her appear even freakier in the eyes of the student body. And this inability to communicate, to connect with the world around her - even with her loving aunt and uncle and cute cousin Bella - is responsible for Bindy's mental abilities and physical health going slowly down the drain without anybody going farther than making check-up appointments for her, which are repeatedly ignored by her. All the pointless struggle, all the sadness and the crucial turning point when Bindy spontaneously opens up messed with my heart thoroughly and turned me into this sobbing, snot-dripping wreck. I know this is not really a review, but I am not functioning correctly again yet. When you glimpse at my rating you can see that I actually liked this book although usually I resent books that make me cry. And I liked it - and especially Bindy - although it was completely lacking Moriarty's trademark humor, the healthy dose of romance I normaly crave in each and every young adult book, and - with the exception from the end and a few letter responses from teachers, parents and officials - the use of multiple points of view, which you quickly start taking for granted after having read one or two of Jaclyn Moriarty's funnily gleaming literary gems.
Note on the series: I have not read the Ashbury books in the chronological order and I don't think you have to. I recommend to take the chance and read any of these books should you stumble upon one of the installments randomly.
I think this is my favorite Bartimaeus installment. A keeper. I really loved volume 1 and I enjoyed volume 2 and 3 - although I certainly felt like pu...moreI think this is my favorite Bartimaeus installment. A keeper. I really loved volume 1 and I enjoyed volume 2 and 3 - although I certainly felt like punching pomptous Nathaniel the harder and longer the older and cockier he got. Sheban assasin Asmira was a two-side, flawed character as well, but I liked her inspite of her pink "I-love-the-ruler-of-my-country-unconditionally" glasses right from the start. Bartimaeus' voice was even saucier than ever. And the historical/biblical setting in Israel and Sheba added a certain something to the well-adjusted djinni concept. Maybe there will be a fifth Bartimaeus volume? It would be easily possible to let another famous historical figure get in contact with him. (less)
4.5 stars (= not as wonderful as Inside Out). Some things were pretty illogical, some things were hard to imagine and Snyder has this tendency to turn...more4.5 stars (= not as wonderful as Inside Out). Some things were pretty illogical, some things were hard to imagine and Snyder has this tendency to turn characters from good to bad to good and bad again during the course of a book. That was slightly unnerving.
But in spite of that I enjoyed myself immensely. This is when I know why I like reading best: When turning pages feels more exhiliarating that inhaling a spoon of vanilla ice-cream lathered with strawberry-sauce: I really like Trella and her world. And half a star less is tremendously positive for a Snyder sequel: I loved both Poison Study and Storm Glass, but was severely disappointed by their respective second and third volumes.
Post-plague, underground, dystopian fiction set in a smallish, harsh, survival-of-the-fittest society, a deserted, crumbling New York City, unexpected...morePost-plague, underground, dystopian fiction set in a smallish, harsh, survival-of-the-fittest society, a deserted, crumbling New York City, unexpected friendship, a hint of romance and super-gory zombies!
"Enclave" turned out to be extremely engrossing. Although, sometimes, I was a little chicken to turn the page and find out what happened next, I craved to return to the story with a feverish intensity each time I decided to shut down my Kindle, since nourishing my body, working for my living and catching the minimum amount of sleep seemed to be a sensible thing to do, but felt oh so annoying. Do you realize how lucky I am to have once again experienced that kind of addicted rush that turned me into someone who reads on a daily basis in the first place? If you glance at my current average rating of 3.1something you maybe do. I admit, I tend to forget again and again the huge emotional difference between reading a book I like and devouring a book with zest - sticky bones, minor flaws and all. Right now I am in the middle of an unquestionably clever, worthwhile book (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms), and I eventually want to find out how it ends, but in comparison to spending time with the "Enclave" consuming it feels only marginally entertaining (to me).
When I wrote my original review yesterday - right on my Kindle - I thought I had to be fair and reduce my enthusiastic rating by half a star at least because of the completely unnecessary beginning of a love-triangle subplot and certain vagueness concerning the survival of a person who got dear to the socially already very deprived heroine - and certainly to me. Mainly because other books I have read would have suffered the same "punishment". Yet after Maya supplied me with a blog entry by the author in which she addresses the love-triangle-accusation and other reader complaints (http://www.annaguirre.cm/archives/201...) my fear for a "Who-on-dystopian-earth-should-I-love-now" sequel did not wholly subside, but turned into something wholesomely optimistic and made me wonder whether having a book which I enjoyed as much as "Enclave" really deserved to anonymously drown in the crowd of four-star-worthy books on my "read" shelf. My rating system is heavily depending on gut feeling and my personal enjoyment. Being fair is to my books would be a ridiculous endeavour. Another thing that helped me understand were the author's notes at the end of the book. I had been wondering how the community in the "College" Enclave had lost and forgotten so much of our culture and of former "Topside" life after a mere half century maybe. Deuce does not know about the moon, about rivers and snow, or what a zipper is, what a wedding invitation might be for, and what the material plastic is called. Aguirre explains that in her imagination only the the rich and powerful had the means to flee the cities when the catastrophe happened. So the people who survived and made the survival of the next generation possible by forming topside gangs and underground enclaves had been the underpriviledged and poor. People who - at least in the beginning - did not care about written material or about handing their offspring a sense of their species' history. It made sense to me. And the information about the long shelf-life of canned food smoothed my skeptical frown. What I still do not get is how the underground clans make do without carbonhydrates. Apart from rare finds (tinned fruit etc.) Deuce's community lives on meat, fish and mushrooms only. I know that the Enclave's ancient-looking eldests are only 25, but is the human brain able to function without glucose? I am not sure, but in the end I find I do not really care.
"Enclave" just offered a mix that was strangely irresistable to me – personally: - A fifteen year-old girl, a huntress who takes pride in what she does, who sees the facade of her safe and perfect worlds crumble and starts to question the infinite authority of her community’s cruel and insincere elders. - She gradually falls in love with her topside-born mysterious partner although she had been taught that romance was reserved for the weak and pretty, namely the chosen breeders. - Part of the book’s charm is her open-eyed wonder about the sky, the moon, the buildings and the rest of our civilizations remains. - Part of the book’s thrill is that she and Fade are admirably tough fighters and kill countless foul-smelling zombies out for their flesh in perfect choreography. - This likable pair acts in front of two very bleak, but interesting settings: The dark metro tunnels in which you reach the neighboring enclave only by running three days through zombie-infested territory and the toppled ghost-town of New York ruled by raping, murdering teenage boys who will die young in a fight over their territories. - The move to Topside presents Deuce unexpectedly with a real friend and with a deadly enemy turned into a valued companion.
Well. That somehow does not sound convincing, I know. But how should I talk with my guts? Can you tell me? (less)
I have selected the authors I want to display as my favorite ones with care - writing one of my favorite books does not automatically switch me into f...moreI have selected the authors I want to display as my favorite ones with care - writing one of my favorite books does not automatically switch me into fan mode - yet one of my very first thoughts - when thoughts were more or less possible again after ripping myself away from life in Charyn and Lumatere - was: "I need to persuade Goodreads maintanance to install a huge, visible gap between word magician Marchetta and the rest of the writers I unquestionably adore."
Some more coherent brain activity and a fond trip down the Memory Lane of Reading History shoved things back into perspective, for what would my childhood have been like without the influence of Astrid Lindgren's books (I even went to evening school with a bunch of summer-house-owning adults for three years to learn Swedish) and I cannot imagine my university years without repetitive re-reads of Jane Austen's work (including her letters and the so-called Juvenilia). Still, as far as my contact to books-which-caused-dangerous-infatuation is concerned Melina Marchetta belongs into her very own category of powerful writers, too. The emotions, the reading experiences her books offer, are incomparable to everything else I have encountered and they grab me and squeeze my heart from an unguarded angle each time – even though I fully expect to be tackled by now.
I love all of Marchetta's stories and I treasure the collection of funny, witty and wise dialogues about friendship and family and life in general that I have underlined or copied from her novels. Orphan Froi's journey into the country of his adoptive homeland's enemy as a trained assassin-spy-fake-impregnator of crazy Princess Quintana, who - as the last-born female - is supposed to end her nation's infertility curse by giving birth to the first baby, is no exception:
Although my fickle memory failed to provide me with all the geographic, political and social details I should have remembered from inhaling Finnikin of the Rock a year before, the lush scenery, the danger, the fragile past-war negotiations in Lumatere and the complicated schemings at both courts roped me firmly in and had me flipping the pages at inhuman speed. But everyone who interupts to say that other authors manage to connoct equally thrilling fantasy plots is certainly not wrong.
On the contrary: Admirable as Marchetta's stories are – fantastic or realistic with twists and turns and satisfactory solutions and all that stuff favorites are made of – their true, distinctive magic is hidden inside the characters. When it comes to Marchetta-made characters I feel like a snake dancing to an enchanted flute's song: My loyalty, my love and my repulsion place themselves at the author's whim.
Let's have a look at Froi. Holy Snot, that boy! I could not really understand why Evanjalin forgave him and insisted on dragging him along after what he attempted to do to her. I mistrusted him until the end of Finnikin of the Rock, I imagined him to be ungracefully bulky and I found his disability to pronounce Lumaterean words pretty inattractive. I admit I even had been a tiny bit apprehensive and wondered "How will she keep my interest by lugging me around inside his head for a whole middle volume? Probably an impossible task." And now here I am having delayed writing a review for almost two month, because my love for "that boy" and his own mottled crew of side-characters had rendered me speechless. Froi is still Froi. No question. But he turned out beautifully. Even his flaws (all of Marchetta's characters are equipped with just the right dose of flaws) were beautiful to me. Froi even made it into my "Top 5 Male Heroes of 2011" without having to battle other opponents. When I was reading his story I repeatedly got annoyed by Finnikin and his royal wife and consequently had to snicker, because in those moments I recognized the firm hold Melina Marchetta's writing has on my emotions.
After Froi let's focus on Quintana. You've probably read some strange quotes or studied Flannery's review featuring the now almost famous ugly-witch-sketch of Charyn's bird's-nest-hair-bearing princess. It is true: The schizophrenic girl is unspeakably filthy, has no table manners or fashion sense, and totters through her prison-like castle engulfed in an unkempt mass of brownish hair when she is not stuffing her face with food from other persons' plates. Yet right along with Froi I inexplicably fell in love with her. Making something like that happen requires some serious voodoo.
Therefore I bow my head in awe and impatiently await the publication of Quintana of Charyn, the final volume of the trilogy. I refuse to take sides (view spoiler)[Isaboe or Quintana (hide spoiler)] in advance, because I know Melina Marchetta will push my devotion and my hope into the direction she wants them to be anyway.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
***Read for the first time from August 04 to 07, 2011*** How happy I am that I spontaneously gave in and ordered this odd, little jewel .... It was dark...more***Read for the first time from August 04 to 07, 2011*** How happy I am that I spontaneously gave in and ordered this odd, little jewel .... It was dark, strangely compelling and utterly beautifully written ... and completely different from what I had expected.
It’s the turn of the century in rural England. The Industrial Revolution with its affluence of metal and electricity has forced most of the Old Ones, elemental spirits, bogs, brownies, fairies and the like, to disappear. But in Swampsea and other mucky places magical creatures still roam free. Dark Muses feed on the creativity of unsuspecting males until they drop dead or go mad, monsters shoot out of slimy holes to bite off your hand, the Boggy Mun strikes people with the deadly swamp cough and flying witches screech frightening things at people who lost their way in the dark while flashing “their girl parts” at them. Consequently witch trials are still in fashion around Swampsea. Female citizens who are fond of dancing or giggling and look quite the part are swiftly hanged when not able to produce a watertight alibi. Briony Larkin has always known that she is different, because she always felt at ease in the swamp, Brownies, Wykes and Strangers actively sought her out and “Mucky Face”, a water elemental, calls her Mistress. But it had been her late Stepmother who convinced her that she was a witch, capable of wicked things and incapable of human feelings. For great parts of the book it remains unclear why and how Briony caused the parsonage library to burn, why “Mucky Face” crashed in a huge wave down on her stepmpother and caused her spine to break and what is the deal with arsenic poisoning. But witch or no witch - inspite of her many mock-irritated complaints to the reader (“How has Rose lived for seventeen years and no one has killed her, not once?”), Briony’s love for her autistic / obsessive-compulsive twin sister Rose was apparent. Briony believed her own wicked personality to be the cause for her difficult twin’s disability and her own urge to care for her to be enforced propriety, but in everything she nonchalantly said or did, a fierce tenderness shone through.
Thus I became very interested in getting to the bottom of the riddle, in Briony clearing the fog that clouded her memories since the strange illness which ailed her for a year before her stepmother’s supposed self-poisoning. And thus I cheered for Briony when self-proclaimed “bad-boy” Elderic, the swamp drainer’s lively son, moved in, treated Rose just right, promised the lesson-hungry Briony to share his private tutor with her and made her almost forget to hate herself.
Now the prominent question (after considering the average rating) is: Would you become interested and willing to cheer, too? Well, honestly, I don’t really know, but let’s take a closer look:
- I liked the unconventional writing style – clever, reflecting, a little odd, cheeky-naughty and layered with a fine coating of hidden hurt – right from the start. To be precise, by page 3 or 4 I was head over heels in love with it and almost believed the story had been composed for my benefit alone. I did not mind a bit Briony’s habit of dropping vague hints here and there and leaving blanks in the description of her family’s misfortunes and current situation. Because I somehow understood her state of mind. I strongly suggest reading a sample chapter before investing money, because the writing is pretty consistents throughout the book and you will find out pretty soon if you adore or despise Briony’s voice. - The pacing was of the slower sort, but I did not mind a bit. On the contrary: I longed to savor each page, to let the sentences melt into my consciousness. If you crave action, film-worthy monster-fights and scenes that flash by in quick succession, better look for a different book. - I liked the Victorian setting with its well-founded, but badly acted-upon superstitions and hidden otherworldly dangers. And I did not mind a bit that the hero did not possess superhuman qualities and the heroine did not perform magic and summonings and other acts, which are usually mandatory for the paranomal teen romance protagonist, day in and day out. - I admit, I expect some romance from a five-star-worthy novel. It’s a personal requirement. And I enjoyed Briony’s growing infatuation and her jealousy of Elderic’s affections for Leanne. But but I did not mind a bit that the love-story did not blossom into novel-consuming proportions and that endless repetitions of the “I-Can’t-Live-Without-You-Mantra” were somehow missing altogether. If you need to melt into a kneeless puddle at least once in each chapter, go search for another book. - In some parts “Chime” turned out to be quite “horrible”, meaning ripped out hands or swallowed people. But but I did not mind a bit. I enjoyed the gothic vibes. If you prefer your main characters unmaimed, I can help you choose another book. - The title and the cover turned out to be exactly fitting. Seldomly a heroine’s face looks close to her description: In this case it does. Briony is porcelain-skinned with velvet-black eyes and blond hair.
I'll end this perusal with a quote: "Once we got to eating, the idea of happiness returned to me. Not the feeling, the idea. Would a regular girl be happy simply eating a hot meal with a great deal of chew to it? Maybe happiness is a simple thing. Maybe it's as simple as the salty taste of pork, and the vast deal of chewing in it, and how, when the chew is gone, you can still scrape at the bone with your bottom teeth and suck at the marrow."
Have you decided? If not, take you time ... until the next 'Chime'.
****** My first thoughts, written right after reading (2011/08/07): I am still wavering between four and five stars and have to let my impressions/emotions simmer for a night, because I know I liked the second half slightly less than the first, but because I am also sure that I really I loved this book, the heroine's voice and - among other things - her relationship to her sister Rose. My copy is full of little plastic Post-it-strips that need to be typed and my head is full of thoughts to be formed, my heart is full of cravings for more works by the author and my jealous soul longs to be able to command written language to bow to my every whim like she is.
***** 2013/03/02: After my first re-read I feel so mushy and so abundantly happy inside and I can only barely refrain from quoting half the book. Briony and Rose have become even dearer to me. Knowing where the story went meant I was at leisure to savor all the tiny bits and wondrous pieces. It is probably safe to say that I've found an all-time-favorite. Or is that pretentious after only two years of infatuation? People - and readers - change, even when books do not change with them.(less)
A scifi-in-space-fantasy-monsters-vampires-and-strange-creatures-good-and-evil-beastly-but-gorgeous-guy-drugs-and-blood-thriller featuring an innocent...moreA scifi-in-space-fantasy-monsters-vampires-and-strange-creatures-good-and-evil-beastly-but-gorgeous-guy-drugs-and-blood-thriller featuring an innocent but incredibly strong heroine surviving a non-stop party on an island of infinite darkness, endless pleasure and short life-spans. Intrigued? You should be. It is that original and captivating.
(Note: 0.5 stars short of five because of the open ending.)(less)
Bookers, I have to admit I pulled an Alexa on this group read. Sorry, girls and Teccc. Do not punish me with a reading ban or something like that. I h...moreBookers, I have to admit I pulled an Alexa on this group read. Sorry, girls and Teccc. Do not punish me with a reading ban or something like that. I have three days off this week and when I woke up this morning I really believed it was the 14th already. But now I see it is Santa Lucia Day. This mix-up wouldn't definitely have happened to me if people in Germany ran around the house with candle crowns on their honey-blond heads like they do in Sweden on December 13th. The lack of tradition has done me in!
I look really forward to discussing this over at the Corner!!!(less)
”Everything would be better tomorrow, I thought: a new day, a new dawn. It would have to be better than this. I was wrong. There was no new dawn the...more”Everything would be better tomorrow, I thought: a new day, a new dawn. It would have to be better than this. I was wrong. There was no new dawn the next day.”
Cedar Falls, Iowa. Almost 16-years-old Alex has just experienced a major break-through on his way to adulthood: His parents stopped arguing with him and have taken off to uncle Paul's goat farm in Illinois with only his sister Rebecca in tow. Alex luxuriates in his freedom of choice between doing his homework and collecting gold-nuggets in "World of Warcraft", when something huge drops on his house and starts to burn. After freeing himself of collapsed furniture he learns that even outside his bouse nobody has electricity or a phone connection. The fire brigade arrives in spite of that, the next door couple takes him in and things are supposed to settle down, when hell literally breaks loose: Earth- and ear-shattering thunder that lasts for hours and results in a roof-breaking, sun-darkening, perpetual rain of grainy ash. Alex' initial fear and his helpless indecisiveness change into a fierce determination to get away and find his family when the first armed looters crash Joe and Darren's house and turn the supposed nightmare into something horribly real. A backpack filled with bottles of toilet-tank water, cans of food, matches, a tarp and a raincape taken from the remains of his home plus his father's pair of skis and his teacher’s taekwondo staff represent the gear of Alex' lonely roadless road trip towards Illinois. Through the eyes of Alex we face thirst, hunger, exhaustion, cold, fear, pain, greed, murder and rape, but we also experience compassion, charity, faith, cleverness, lust, love, loyalty, braveness, strength, the will to survive and hope.
You could easily tell how much I revelled in reading “Ashfall” by debut author Mike Mullin just by taking note of two facts:
1. The urgent frenzy with which I tore through the 466 pages. I reluctantly shut down my Kindle only to change trains and to walk from the station to my apartment building. Apart from these very unwelcome interruptions I practically read the book in one go. 2. The pure engrossment which made me literally forget that I was reading “Ashfall” for review and which resulted in my having to find the right words in hindsight and to install something resembling a structure into the gushy mush threatening to pour out onto the page instead of relying on previously saved bookmarks and margin notes. I am sorry that I am in no position now to say something profound about the author’s use of language or the quality of his writing style. I simply had no attention to spare.
There is even a third aspect, but it may sound quite unbelievable to those who know my reading habits: I did not read a single chapter for two whole days after finishing "Ashfall" although I had more than one opportunity to grab a chunk of time. Part of my post-Ashfall book abstinence could be explained by my resolve not to shove reviews that should/want/deserve to be written aside anymore. But I am also certain that part of my hesitance was caused by my reluctance to let go of the story, its characters, its grip on my mind and the still sharp-edged imprints on my inner eye.
Who – apart from the handful of readers who meticulously study all bookflap texts - would have guessed that a young adult novel bearing such a – admittedly fitting, but – boring, colorless, and - I say it: ugly - cover (it does remind me strongly of German young adult fiction published in the 80s of the previous century), would encase such a wonderfully moving, deep and breathtakingly vivid addition to the realistic dystopian genre? I harbored some relatively high hopes, but only because some of the earlier reviews sounded pretty convincing. Now I really wish I owned a paper copy – and I would even take one with a pink bulldozer embossed on the dust-jacket.
The two most important aspects that determine whether I will fall in love with a certain book or not are interesting, multi-layered characters who – if they are not likable - can at least be understood from a certain angle, and the believability of the setting and the actions – regardless of how strange or different the fictional world seems to be. Therefore it is essential for me to point out how unartificial Alex voice felt in my opinion and how the author somehow made me swallow everything he handed over in sweet docility without letting me even think of talking back. Whether he describes a desperate family sifting through the rubble of a collapsed gas station and getting aggressive when Alex turns up with a seemingly well-filled backpack, whether he has Alex fighting or building a shelter or kissing a girl, or whether he shows Alex’ embarrassment when Darla discovers his fear of heights, it fit the whole and it felt real and right.
I cannot pinpoint the scene, but at some point I knew that I had fallen head over heels in love with both Alex and his love interest – maybe especially his love interest: Darla is a very resourceful, strong and outspoken girl. After her father died she took over the corn and cattle farm single-handedly and failed school miserably because of that. Her cheerful, religious and rather naive mother certainly did her share - physically - but she completely relied on her teenaged daughter to calculate costs and labor, let unused land, sell their produce and repair the big and small argricultural machines from the start. Without Darla's inventions and Darla's watchful eye the two of them would never have had the chance to survive the vulcanic catastrophe longer than the contents of their pantry lasted. Darla is also fiercely loyal, funny, sexy and astonishingly vulnerable. She teases Alex because of his farm-related ignorance, but she does not scoff or gawk at his real shortcomings. I never expected her to crash so hard (view spoiler)[after the convicts raped and murdered her mother (hide spoiler)]. When Alex first meets Darla (view spoiler)[He is embarrassed to discover that she must have undressed and stitched him. Such a cute scene! (hide spoiler)], immediately several of Hayao Miyazaki's wonderful female heroines popped into my mind: Cheerful airplane mechanic Fio Piccolo in Porco Rosso, brave and compassionate princess Nausicaä, Iron Town’s tough leader Lady Eboshi in Monoke Hime and even Arietty, the Borrower. Although Darla is the one with the physical strength and the inventive brains, Alex makes her feel safe. That sense of safety is not induced by Alex brown belt in Taekwondo or by his manliness, but by her deep conviction that she can count on him and his concept of responsibility. I love the mixture of character traits that make up Alex. He is a bit nerdy and quiet, but he is also a calculating fighter. He does not waver when he has made up his mind. He never loses his compassion, although he occasionally has to quarrel with his conscience, because securing his immediate survival rivals being responsible for the possible demise of others by not sharing with them. But even when sympathy takes over and makes him risk his life, he is not uncautious, stupid or sickly samaritarian. I like the normality of his relationship with his parents, his resolve to act grown-up enough to be taken seriously, his ability to adapt, and his slowly blossoming, tender love for Darla.
Let me also tell you how relieved I have been to read a young adult novel that was completetely devoid of instant-love and paranormally-induced dependencies, but surprised me with a lovely, lovely, love-story that depicts the slow birth of a realistic, strong relationship. A relationship that includes sex as one of the normal components:
"So I thought I’d feel different afterward, after the visible neon sign proclaiming 'virgin' had blinked out on my forehead. I’d spent years obessessing about it, so it seemed like somthing should have changed. Maybe it would have if I’d still been at Ceder Falls High School surrounded by the gossip and the braggadocio of teenage boys. But on my uncle's farm, nobody noticed, or at least nobody said anything. The next day, like every day, we dug corn, chopped wood, and carried water. And it didn’t really change much between Darla and me, either. Yes, making love was fun, but it wasn’t really any more fun than anything we’d already been doing together. Just different."
There is frustration, there are mistanderstandings, there is teasing, there is companionship, there is trust, there is risking a lot – even your life, and there is gentleness and care. For instance, I loved the scene in which Alex helps Darla pee in the refugee camp trench by "being her tree" to lean on and gets splashed in the process.
Speaking of pee: It is mentioned often. At least 14 scenes, to be exact - thanks to my Kindle’s text seach function - revolve around the act of urinating. I didn’t mind. On the contrary, there are people dying of dehydration in "Ashfall". Alex stinks. He uses his spare shirt to cover his mouth with wet cloth-stripes. Not glossing over body functions, but making them part of the whole catastrophic mess adds another layer of believability.
When I was reading "Ashfall" I automatically compared it to two other dystopian road-trip stories I have read recently: Released by Megan Duncan and Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick. Both dystopias deal with catastrophic circumstances, too, wave in a kind of love story, the coming-of-age-process of the main character and an episode at a kind of community or camp where people try to survive together. But both stories feature zombies and monsters.
In "Ashfall" there are no zombie-turned humans or other supernatural phenomena to fight against or to survive. There is no bomb or no alien invasion to blame. There is just a plain old natural desaster – the unpredicted erruption of an existing supervolcano sleeping under the Yellowstone National Park – that takes away the sun’s warmth and daylight, the usual means of communication and transport and the access to clean water and fresh food. The author makes us realise the painful way that we do not need a rampant zombie-virus or galactically enhanced physical abilities to turn us into ugly beasts:
"My sorrow dissolved in a wave of pure fury. What kind of place was this, where tens of thousands of people were herded together without adequate shelter, without decent latrines? A cattle pen, not fit for humans. And the guards, Captain Jameson, there were people just like me. For the first time ever, I felt ashamed of my species. The volcano had taken our homes, our food, our automobiles, and our airplanes, but it hadn’t taken our humanity. No, we’d given that up on our own."
The concentration-camp-like refugee camp, which had been advertised via radio as one of America’s safe havens where people would receive shelter, help and food, was what enraged and saddened me the most in "Ashfall" – much more than the also prison-like communities in Released and Ashes did. In the latter two novels the leaders at least act true to their strange religious believes. (view spoiler)[The FEMA camp in Galena exists for reasons of personal enrichment and greed only. People are collected on the road by soldiers cruising though the ash and have no chance at resisting being detained. They are stripped of most belongings, there are not properly registered, they are lucky if tent space is available for them, they get a cup of rice each day and nothing else – while the camp managers receive provisions per refugee, drink coffee and sell all the grain they discover in warehouses to the highest bidder on the collapsing international market. (hide spoiler)] Somehow this realistic situation in "Ashfall" showing “normal” people acting selfish under the cover of welfare turned me into a hot and cold and shivering lump.
But to wrap it up: Basically "Ashfall" turned me into a fan. Mr. Mullin, that does not happen too often. Especially not after just one book.
A short statement concerning the ending: Maybe I was already biased when I reached it, but I refuse to call the open, but hopeful, maybe even hesitatingly cheerful finale a cliffhanger. Now that I have found out that there will be a sequel (Ashen Winter) I need to read it, no question, but when I sucked up the last words of the last chapter of "Ashfall", I was quite ignorant of the fact and strangely content with the few lose strands I saw hanging in the breeze.
A million thanks to Netgalley and to Tanglewood Press for being so awfully generous with electronic review copies. I immensely enjoyed reading Ashfall and as you can see I gladly will spread the word. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)