”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)
This fulfilling story of friendship, loneliness, loyalty and love has two important ingredients going for it:
1. Awfully sweet, but realistic character...moreThis fulfilling story of friendship, loneliness, loyalty and love has two important ingredients going for it:
1. Awfully sweet, but realistic characters (There is no need to emphasize his unquestionably cute infatuation with his next door neighbor Estelle, because I loved 15-years-old hero Dan for caring so much about his inherited and footsore dog Harold and for trying to pull his freshly divorced and impoverished mom out of her misery and her imagined talks to her idol Thom Yorke anyway. Said mom gets over her ex-husband's confession to be broke and gay by unintentionally talking all the bridal customers of her recently started wedding cake business "I Do Cakes" out of wanting to marry at all. A whole army of exceptional minor characters - sweet, funny, excentric, true-to-life - compose the wholesome filling.) 2. On-the-spot, humorous, crafty and perceptive language that melts on your tongue but is still not unlikely for a nerdy, funny and considerate teenaged boy. Before I hand this book over to the next in line I have to save a few quotes, like for instance: "Stress level: extreme. It's like she was a jar with the lid screwed on too tight, and inside the jar were pickles, angry pickles, and they were fermenting, and about to explode." or "Fred is staying with his mother these holidays. She's living in London for six months, in Chelsea, studying Georgian underwear at the National Art Library. It's a thesis, not a fetish." or "'... you cow,' Estelle added. 'I heard that.' 'Give the woman the geriatric audiology medal,' Estelle said. 'I heard that, too', her mother said, from the other side of the door."
I really enjoyed "Six Impossible Things" (it grew on me from chapter to chapter) and I hope I have been making that sufficiently clear, but I think you have to wait for my friend Janina's (I'm counting on you, Janina!) review to put her finger onto the exact spot which makes this book just right.
Thank you so much, lovely Nic, for being our Corner's Australian Book Angel!
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)
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)
Yes, I would like to read the sequels, because I've heard too much praise for them. This first installment was interesting and good for the first four...moreYes, I would like to read the sequels, because I've heard too much praise for them. This first installment was interesting and good for the first four fifth and great for the last. I never would have guessed the end, although it makes perfectly sense in hindsight. (less)
Utterly lovely. Cried several times and did not resent it - which I usually do. Review follows, book will be sent to Teccc. (Want to borrow anything e...moreUtterly lovely. Cried several times and did not resent it - which I usually do. Review follows, book will be sent to Teccc. (Want to borrow anything else?). My mom comes to visit at noon. Have to get some sleep and do some more speed-cleaning. Once again: Thank you, dear Nic!(less)
Read for the first time from February 18 to 20, 2010.
Up to the middle of the book I would have rated solid four stars, but then I noticed the characte...moreRead for the first time from February 18 to 20, 2010.
Up to the middle of the book I would have rated solid four stars, but then I noticed the characters had sort of attached themselves to my heart and the plot twisted and turned and I had to take the book with me on a seven-minutes-train-ride in order to go on reading. So ... I loved this piece of fantasy, give it five stars and reverently place it on my for-keeps-shelf.(less)
Financially you are very lucky indeed, if you are born as an inhabitant of the small town Gentry: Although all around the industry’s prospects are ble...moreFinancially you are very lucky indeed, if you are born as an inhabitant of the small town Gentry: Although all around the industry’s prospects are bleak, Gentry still flourishes. This astonishing piece of luck is something best not talked about. That is the consensus of the supersticious townsfolk. Equally hushed are murmurs concerning the random bad luck which eventually strikes among the community: Every now and then an infant suddenly dies.
Mackie Doyle knows that he, too, would have died as a baby – were it not for his sister Emma, who as a tiny girl nursed him back to health, in spite of the knowledge that the crib held a replacement instead of her brother, and his parents, Gentry’s Methodist preacher and his wife, who taught their changeling son from an early age to keep his otherness (intolerance of blood, iron and sanctified ground and also heightened senses) hidden on all accounts. Their caution even includes a "no-visitors-to-the-house" rule, because they fear their iron-free household might start the community's rumors. Therefore Mackie is quite at a loss when his moody and fierce classmate Tate, whose baby sister Natalie just recently “died,” pesters him of all people relentlessly for answers and help and seems to be immune to his habitual elusiveness. As Mackie’s physical condition worsens, because being perpetually surrounded by iron and blood seems to poison him slowly causing breathing difficulties and fainting fits, and members of his people repeatedly appear, inviting him to return to the dark and underground "House of Mayhem”, he decides to try to find out what really happened to Natalie, to his town and to himself. His visit to one of the two dangerous female rulers of the supernatural realms puts him smack into the middle of a ruthless power struggle between evil in the shape of beautiful decay and maybe-evil-maybe-less-evil in the shape of an ugly, capricious little girl with too many teeth.
I am usually not a great fan of horror tales. I am rather the girl with her head between her knees when things become gruesome at the movies. But Brenna Yovanoff does this mixture of urban fantasy, love story and eerie, eerie, horror fiction so beautifully, so vividly, colorfully, tenderly and poetically I simply had to love it and to savor each description without closing my inner eyes. The disclosure of the shocking facts also works great for the reader: It is clear from the beginning that Mackie knows more than he lets slip, but his eyes get opened wider along with the reader’s.
Mackie is an unusual character, he stands out, but at the same time he is a quite normal sixteen-year-old: He admits admiring classroom bitch Alice because of her attractive exterior and detects only gradually the lovable layers of vulnerable daredevil Tate. I also liked how he interacted with the Morrigan – simultaneously tender and afraid. I was always uneasy about Mackie’s parents: Was their love for their replacement son sincere? What did they hide? But I was kind of envious because of Mackie’s sister Emma and his best friend Roswell, who both loved Mackie so unconditionally and unwaveringly and chased away his fear of being an intruder within the human world and their lives. Brenna Yovanoff has a true talent of showing her readers love in all possible shapes – even that between antagonized celtic goddesses.
It's true, the world-building gets never fully explained. But if one reads the novel vigilantly, it becomes pretty clear that a complete understanding is not intended: “The Lady” illustrates at one point how her people has always been defined by the imagination, the superstitions and the limitations of the humans whose sacrifices, attention, admiration or fear keep them alive. They are what we imagine them to be. They are repelled by what we imagine them to be intolerant of. And that changes with our culture. Interesting, isn’t it?
This book is very good, Brenna. I like it and its ending as it is. It does not need a sequel! (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)
4,5 stars!! I am quite overwelmed by how much I liked Ballad, since after reading Lament I expected a sequel that would also barely make it into the "...more4,5 stars!! I am quite overwelmed by how much I liked Ballad, since after reading Lament I expected a sequel that would also barely make it into the "It-was-enjoyable-but-didn't-touch-me" category. In most cases sequels even take a slight - or not so slight - drop for me. Surprisingly Ballad turned out to be what I wished Lament had been: A beautiful but eerie story in which humans meet dangerous, but alluring and likable faeries. Both worlds are shaken up. Both main characters change because of the encounter. James was the character I liked best in Lament, anyway. And his story told in turns with faerie muse Nuala tucked at my heart strings in a way Deidre's narration would not and could not. (Oh, how I wished for a miracle in the end! A sure sign of success of the author's efforts to engage the reader.) I was so very afraid of Nuala hurting James in the beginning, but after a few chapters she started to grow on me, which is how it should be in my opinion. Ballad, which was featuring Deidre, too, in the form of unsent text messages, confirmed my slight dislike of "the cloverhand" and opened my eyes to why Lament and I could not and did not really click. A short comment on the cover: It fits "like a fist on an eye" as we would say in German.
P.S.: I am sorry, Jessi, for stowing Ballad away on my keepers shelf after having set up your hope. Borrowing is certainly possible ;-).(less)
„I was a blastocyst, once. A mere jumble of cells clinging to one another. A fertilized egg. Of course, we were all in just such a state at some point...more„I was a blastocyst, once. A mere jumble of cells clinging to one another. A fertilized egg. Of course, we were all in just such a state at some point in our lives, but I excelled at it in a way you didn't. I spent more time in that condition than I have as a person. Hundreds of years more, in fact.“
Thus begins Hugh Howey's short and sadly overlooked stand-alone young adult novel Half Way Home. If you are looking for something different among the dystopia rubble: Here you are. What is Half Way Home? It is a harsh thriller about survival. It is a study of human behavior in a freshly built, unstructured, small community. It deals with handing over the life-and-death-decisions to artificial intelligence, it serves us frienship, alien planets inhabited by huge, furry worms, a clever mystery and ... a road-trip into the unknown. What Half Way Home is not: A romance, an endless saga with multiple prequels and sequels or a piece of emotional origami.
Although intelligent machines could easily do the long trips to far away planets on their own, harvest minerals and other promising materials to take back home to Earth, mankind has chosen to spread its genes across the Universe for the sole conceited benefit of knowning that its offspring will own the future.
During the past centuries a huge number of spaceships has reached random destinations. At about half of them a detailed geological analysis done by specialized machinery suggested that the planet in question did not offer the ideal components for starting a new civilization. The complete shipments were destructed in order to save human technology from attempts at patent piracy. If the analythical reports were favorable, the onboard artificial intelligence called "Colony" - or "Al" - triggered a chemical process that started the 500 eggs to grow in their translucent tubes, to learn their specific future roles in society by virtual one-to-one sessions with said "Colony". In the 30 years the physical and mental construction of a planet's first generation took machines felled trees, tilled soil, mined and refined metal and built additional machinery with it.
When 15-years-old Porter wakes up naked and gooey in his bursting tube next to 58 other lucky colonists, who also survived the fire that suddenly started in the midst of the circularly set-up bio-vats, his half-way finished education as the colony's psychologist makes him suspicious concerning the supposedly accidental catastrophe. His unease grows when "Colony Al" instructs the survivors to concentrate on building a rocket in order to send crucial information back to Earth instead of working out solutions for temporary housing and clothing ("Colony" unconcernedly suggested tarpoline), for locating the much needed provision containers, which had been set down next to a far away area meant for mining, and for installing some kind of order. What is so important that after hundreds of years a rocket has suddenly to be sent off within two weeks? Could it be that the fire had been intended to kill them all? Could it be that "Colony" ruthlessly decided to abort the colonization process after fifteen years of successful preparation? And what can be so essentially wrong with the planet to give up the chance of populating it?
When "Colony" keeps refusing answers, food grows scarce and fanatically power-hungry splinter groups show no qualms using mortal weapons to keep their fellow colonists in check, Porter, farmer Kelvin and teacher Tarsi see no other way out than to join a handful of deserters on their way to the mining site beyond the still unpassable jungle. An exciting, dangerous journey peppered with group conflicts, hierarchy issues, hunger, want, loss, determination and character growth begins.
I liked ... - the road-trip plot - the Space-Odyssey-2001-like colony computer "Al" (Sounds a bit like HAL, doesn't it?) and the conflict between trusting that inanimate "thing" that brought you up and relying on yourself, your instincts, your humanity, your ability to think and decide independently - the plot device of interrupted education: Although Porter's instructions and training modules seem to have happened randomly, his specialized syllabus had been scheduled chronologically, which means the psychological theories he has already covered include only those around the late twentieth century and earlier. Porter is aware of the fact that a large chunk of his supposed learning is missing, but he knows he has to make do with what he had been taught and that his limitations influence his world view. What he knows and what he lacks reflects on his way of solving problems, on his way of dissecting the situation his colony is in. And he realizes that his work group member Oliver, a future philosopher, has it worse than him: He is stuck in a rather primitive, religious phase, which makes him praise every misfortune and every bad turn of events as a manifestation of God's will, which he does not allow to be questioned. Some of the farmers know intricate details about the weather, but not about the actual process of producing crops. And because of the hierarchical arrangement of the bio-vats the fire destroyed the highest ranking future citizens first. Therefore there are no doctors on the planet, only nurses, no electrical engineers, only electricians and so forth, which adds to the general panic and cluelessness of the small teenaged population. - the mystery and its solution. - the dosage of action. - the unique landscape and its dangers. - the fitting cover.
What I was struggling with was (same as when I was reading Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue, which also recommend in spite of my luke-warm-seeming three stars) ... - the narrator's kind of detached voice. It feels somehow distinctly male (I even thought so, when Molly was telling me her interstellar, extra-unique story) and does not invite the reader to invest much emotion. I think that is the reason why the outrageous things happing on both the Parsona's journey through space (view spoiler)[i.e. planetary genocide via nuclar weaponry (hide spoiler)] and the Colony kids' jouney through the forest did not have a lasting impact on my mind. If I looked at the literature I devour with a less personal and more professional stance, I probably would be able to find the correct wording to emphasise what I mean. I hope you got a vague idea in spite of my inability to elaborate.
(view spoiler)[Contrary to other reviewers, who criticise that Porter is depicted as a very girl-like homosexual and thus puts homosexuals into a stereotypically weak corner, I believe that the main character's hesitation to act spontaneously and his occasional decision to let some other - male - friends do the hard, physical work were mainly connected to his planned academic career. Kelvin, the farmer, has a strong muscular body and is trained for intensive, manual labor, Porter, the psychologist, is rather slenderly built and tends to think things through thoroughly. So what? That's no gender thing in my opinion. And I never got the impression of Porter as a weak person. People minded what he had to say. But maybe I am too gullible and too easy to please. (hide spoiler)]
Considering the low price of the e-version I recommend the book to those who appreciate non-romantic science fiction aimed at young adults without hesitation. Do have a try! I think you even can read a free except online.["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)
I am sure The Monstrumologist is an excellent middle-grade horror novel and one that deserves the Michael L. Printz Honor award, too. More gore and bl...moreI am sure The Monstrumologist is an excellent middle-grade horror novel and one that deserves the Michael L. Printz Honor award, too. More gore and blood and brains (the splattered variety) and monsters and mad, amusingly single-minded and selfish professorism are simply not possible. The etching-style 19th-century medical textbook illustations enhance the lost-diary-illusion the story-in-story narration successfully crafts for the reader. A male point of view ties the bow of the altogether perfect package. But I am usually not someone who feels drawn by horror books written for any kind of audience. And after my 82-pages-long foray into the genre this morning cements my guess that my preferences will not shift into that direction anytime soon. I am really not unhappy that I spontaneously agreed to swap the book for one I wanted to get rid off and experimentally had a go. If my train ride this morning had taken longer, I would even have kept on reading. But as it is and as I am, I will resort to reading Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories on my ride back home tonight. The Monstrumologist has already found a cozy space inside a colleague‘s handbag. I am positive Will Henry James and she will have a fabulous time together. (less)
**** Read for the first time December 24th - 25th 2009 ****
Reviewed on the first day of Christmas: The year is almost over and, frankly, I did not ex...more **** Read for the first time December 24th - 25th 2009 ****
Reviewed on the first day of Christmas: The year is almost over and, frankly, I did not expect to stumble across another perfect book. I believed my quota was full. Well, what is Christmas for, if not for miracles? 'As You Wish' is my kind of teenage urban fantasy love-story, Jinn is my kind of supernatural hero (I would have wished for him to stay as well, if I were sixteen) and Viola is the best kind of heroine (kind and funny with flaws).
The story is told in turns by Viola and Jinn, who actually does not have a name, but Viola choses to call him that - although he grumbles that is the same as if he would name her "Human". Viola accidentally summons Jinn, because the wish in her heart to feel like belonging to someone or to some group wells up very strongly.
Jinn appears and impatiently reminds his new and hysterically screaming master to get on with her three wishes so that he can return home to the world of jinns where he does not age and leads a carefree, fearfree and stressfree life. He does not expect Viola to start considerering her wishes with care. And he is not used to masters thinking beyond their own good and to be genuinely interested in him and his well-being. In fact, he breaks the first protocol in interaction with human masters when he agrees to call Viola by her name instead of "Master". After a few days he begrudingly has to admit to himself, that he wants Viola to wish for something that will make her really happy, that he cares for her and that mortality is not so bad when individuality and strong mutual attachment come with it. Can he go back to the jinn world having no name and no real friends, living one perfect, eventless day after the other, knowing that Viola has forgotten the time spent with him?
Viola cannot pinpoint her disconnected feeling. If she made an effort, she could be part of the "Royal Family", if she wanted, she could hang out with the art kids, if she did not mind, she could spend all her free time with her best-friend Lawrence, former childhood-friend and first sweetheart. But somehow she knows these options do not give her back the piece of herself she thinks she is missing. So she is determined to find out what she really needs - after asking if wishing for world peace would make sense or not - although she resents keeping Jinn from returning home. An accidentally uttered wish with ill consequences makes her think even more: Can something that is to change her life permanently be forced anyhow?
I love the normal and casual way in which Viola worms herself into Jinn's business-like heart. I love the fact that Jinn is the first to discover his feelings (no weak heroine with questionable taste in males pining after the bad boy who treats her like dirt). And I like the design of the situation: Jackson Pearce does not need to present a depressed heroine, an outsider, a loner. She hands us a perfectly normal girl, with friends, talents, nice parents. Somebody ro relate to - who gets to be heroine of an engaging genie story in spite of that.
And ... by the way ... did you know that Keanu Reeves unfortunately wished to be a famous actor instead of for becoming a talented one, because good acting does not inevitably lead to popularity? "Surely you didn't think he made it on his acting skills? I grant wishes; I don't work miracles." (p. 50)(less)
“Forget everything you think you know about merpeople. Forget that freaking Ariel, think Silence of the Lambs, think Friday the Thirteenth."
How happy...more“Forget everything you think you know about merpeople. Forget that freaking Ariel, think Silence of the Lambs, think Friday the Thirteenth."
How happy I am that I still have not given up on mermaid books. The strong imprint of my childhood’s obsesssion is still keeping my hope up to find a gleaming mother-of-pearl-treasure among the ocean floor rubble now and then. Rare finds like Anne Greenwood Brown’s soon to be published Lies Beneath justify my unbroken tenacity: Skilled writing, danger, mystery, romance and under-water-action combined with unsettlingly inhuman creatures who - in spite of their inner and outer difference to mankind - do not muddle up the plotline into something illogical or unconceivable, but still leave plenty of room for the reader’s empathy and involvement.
Brown’s mermaids are hollow, envious creatures. Monsters. Like vampires are craving human blood these tail-bearing shapeshifters are addicted to human happiness. They drain couples in love or people enjoying to sail their boats completely of their aura and discard them dead and empty, because they have no means to generate their own bliss and resent their victims for effortlessly flowing over with it.
In addition, they are bound creatures: Physically bound to water – a day-long absence makes their skin crackle and split, visibly bound to their species – by a blueish ring etched into the skin of their necks, magically bound to their family and their family’s territory and mentally bound to fulfill given promises and agreed-to deals. Apart from the mentioned bindings the long-living, alluringly beautiful and super-strong beings are completely amoral and more or less uncivilized: Heroe Calder and his three sisters regularly return to their home, Lake Superior, but when they are not hunting human prey or seafood in the cold water, they sleep in unfurnished caves or drive to places in cars that are not more their own than the clothes on their skins. Calder takes up some work now and then because he prefers to spend his winters alone in warmer waters and needs some money for the plane fare. Calder’s yearning for a solitary life makes him a freak among his own kind. He more or less successfully explains his unusual disposition by the the fact that in contrast to his sisters he has been made not born: His mermaid mother chose to save his life and turn him when he was three. But the thing that really disturbs Maris, Pavati and Tallulah is Calder’s resolve to refrain from killing people as long as he can stand.
Calder’s new aversion to killing has to be quickly overcome, because this summer is the summer of the long-awaited revenge: The Hancock family, whose recently died grandfather is said to be responsible for Calder’s mother’s death, has returned to their house on the shore. Now Calder is supposed to lure one of the Hancock daughters into danger in order to make an easy kill out of their father. Parallel to Calder’s growing conscience his awareness for other aspects of human existence awakens. Partly responsible for Calder’s changing personality is Lily, the older Hancock daughter, who mesmerises Calder with more than just her peach-colored aura.
Contrary to my earlier apprehension I loved reading the story from the male mermaid’s point of view. It made me quickly grow fond of Lily and Sophy, it kindled my fear for Calder's capricious sisters, it offered the right pacing for the mystery around Hancock Senior and Calder’s mother to be unraveled and it drew me to Calder’s side, strange and unfamiliar as it was. I extremely enjoyed Calder’s observations when he ptetended to be a normal human boy, who already knows how to behave at a family dinner: “Lily scooped some spinach salad onto my plate and passed me the salt shaker. I looked at her gratefully and shook it liberally over everything.“
Also I keenly felt his distress and his inner conflict. If you do not look at him too closely, Calder could be described as an ectotherm Edward. Beautiful, torn, self-tormenting and slightly in love with the wrong girl. I liked Lily’s curiosity and fearlessness, which did not make her behave sillily. She represented a strong, spunky, happy and loving counterpart to the paranomal heroe who is constantly fighting depression and self-loathing. And am sure she will also keep the sequel from drifting into unbearably dark waters.
Apropos sequel. I would love to get my hands on it now. And I wouldn’t mind owning a physical copy of Lies Beneath. The blood-soaked streak of water following the live-like mermaid looks so fitting.
Thank you, Netgalley and Delacorte Press for making a mermaid lover happy. See my contented, apricot-colored aura? That is definitely thanks to you ... and certainly the wonderful author, Anne Greenwood Brown.
"He looks again towards the door, expecting Mum to walk in and remind him of something he's forgotten. He smiles awkwardly. 'Is that it, Dad? I've got...more"He looks again towards the door, expecting Mum to walk in and remind him of something he's forgotten. He smiles awkwardly. 'Is that it, Dad? I've got to go.' 'Your Mum said I should mention ... um ... satisfaction.' 'What!' 'She said young men should know things, should be told things so that the girl won't be ...' his eyes plead for understanding, '... disappointed.' [...] 'No worries, Dad. My biology teacher said I was a natural.' Dad looks confused. 'I'm kidding, Dad.' [...] Poor bloke, having to do the dirty work while Mum's off with her gang. 'Dad? What did Grandpa tell you about sex?' 'He said if I got a girl pregnant, he'd kill me.'"
The phrases "Darcy means what he says. He just shouldn’t say it aloud. [...] He’s a teenage boy, he can deal with it. If only he’d learn to keep his mouth shut." make him sound like someone who perpetuously says annoying things or is generally misunderstood by his peers. This is not the case. Sixteen-years-old Darcy Pele Franz Walker just occasionally succumbs to the dangerous urge to say what’s on his mind. So do I - because sometimes watching people’s jaws drop is totally worth the price. Just yesterday I managed to keep myself from saying to the train conductor sucking frantically on his cigarette in the middle of the platform that "This is a non-smoking station. Please show respect to non-smokers, Sir." in the mechanical voice of the loudspeaker lady. And I only barely got away on my bike after remarking to a young guy waiting for his two friends, who were urinating onto the pavement, that it must be quite embarrassing for his poor mates to have such weak muscles in the groin area. Darcy has that sassy streak among his character traits, too. Plus there is always something Shakespearean waiting on his tongue. Popping out witty comments doesn’t make Darcy an ousider, it just interferes with his intention to better stay off the radar of class thug Tim and his brainless but mischief-loving side-kick Braith.
Also the thing about being friends with nerdy and obnoxious chess-lover Noah oversimplifies the plot. For becoming friends with Noah - appreciating his unwavering attempts at spending time together, at sharing jokes and sad secrets and even a hug (I loved that moment. Talking about it makes me want to keep the book.) -, is one of the key story lines in my opinion. The others are finally bonding with his Dad in spite of not sharing his addiction to playing soccer, finding a balance between cowering and standing his ground in the vicinity of Tim and Braith and – certainly – getting the girl of his dreams.
I enjoyed the whole book, but maybe I liked the getting-the-girl part best. Well, yes, I generally have a thing for romantic subplots, but in Slice the romance turned out to be the sweet, tender and smile-inducing story of how-I-was gotten-by-the-girl, for all the female characters including the love interest, the English teacher and Darcy’s Mum are strong-willed and cool and confident and absolutely wonderful. I loved the short interaction between Darcy’s parents, I understood Darcy’s admiration for his T-shirts-with-a-message-collecting teacher and I even liked Stacey and Miranda of the weekly brandy-and-pink-grapefruit-soaked class-parties, which are responsible for Darcy’s first experiences with the opposite sex.
When I was reading Slice and laughing aloud in irregular intervalls it reminded me of two books. One is the equally Australian, romantic and funny Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, which is also narrated in an extremely likable male voice. The other one is the French children’s classic “The Little Nick” (Le petit Nicolas) by René Goscinny, because although Slice comes to tell a story with a noticable timeline, it is also a collection of memorable bits and pieces – seemingly unrelated juicy moments from Darcy’s childhood at home and his teenage years with his classmates at school.
Another aspect that makes Slice so very recommendable in my eyes is the believability amongst all the juiciness. Have you watched or read some of these supposedly hilarious stories that show how a awkward hero stumbles clumsily from one mental pothole into the next because he tries to hide or gloss over an embarrassing step he’s made, and in the end he stands in front of a shitload of self-made problems that could easily have been avoided? Slice does - praised be the author - not make use of this common domino-effect-element, not once. There is embarrassment and there is awkwardness, but both in bearable doses and life-like proportions.
Yet Slice has pushed at a stone in my personal domino game called the "greed to read": It has made me want to read the other novel by Steven Herrick that has been lurking around my wishlist for some time: Black Painted Fingernails. If anyone feels like starting a tour or hosting an international giveaway, please give me a shout
"Notes from the [Family] Blender" is a book which grew only slowly on me because of one of the two main characters (yes, this book has switching point...more"Notes from the [Family] Blender" is a book which grew only slowly on me because of one of the two main characters (yes, this book has switching points of view by two different authors): During the first chapters the guy, Declan, presents himself to us as the kind of teenage boy I always thought I could live without knowing: The sort that is forever playing violent xBox-games, listening to music which revels in sheer brutality, watching non-stop internet porn and talking the rest of the time about their own penis and its voluntary and involuntary activities. Ughh. The reader gets the chance to peek beyond this partly constructed persona a little farther into the story, when Neilly, the girl-part of this strangers-become-siblings-in-a-patchwork-family-equation, detects the hidden sweet traits of her "new bro" on the spot, smiles cheekily and unoffendedly about his guess-how-many-goth-chicks-I-have-nailed-bragging, threw in some counter-remarks and unabrasedly went ahead to instruct him about how to get a girl without pointing out that she sees straight through his armour. I unexpectedly started to like Declan and cheer for him right along with Neilly. I began to understand the emotions he had piled up inside of his mind since his mother's car-crash-death which happened right in front of his eyes. And in the end I felt for him even in situations Neilly did not. Neilly is a heroine I instantly liked. Same goes for her mother Carmen. The rest of the parental crowd (three more guys) and another new step-brother, the angelic Griffin, did not convince me so much. Also I think that the church aspect is a bit too preachy, a bit overdone. In case you wonder: No, this story does not point out the usual Christian doctrine. The church youth group both sets of parents urge their offspring to attend is one that worships Jesus, Buddha and Mother Earth in one person, has the congregation's motto "Love Makes A Family" inscripted above the entrance and offers commitment ceremonies to same-sex couples whom the state Neilly and Declan reside in refuses to unite in marriage. In addition the evils of drinking alcohol and taking drugs were shouted repeatedly at the reader along with the debatable message that it is super-easy and cool to stay away from illegal substances, because the interestingly wicked people abstain anyhow. All fine and alright with me, but I like it better when authors drive down the road determined to tell a great, believable story withought swaying into the sermon line and without stopping at picnic areas to to hand out flyers on "How to improve our intolerant and godless society".
Recommended to fans of multiple-point-of-view-contemporary YA who do not mind to be lectured a bit.(less)
*** The review may contain some spoilery concerning the first half of the plot ***
Finally over. *sigh*
That short outburst above had been my "review" r...more*** The review may contain some spoilery concerning the first half of the plot ***
Finally over. *sigh*
That short outburst above had been my "review" right after I had finished reading the book, and as far as my Goodreads.com account was concerned I planned to leave it at that. Now, more than three months later, I have accumulated enough emotional distance to deal with the story again.
I do not remember the exact wording, but when I was handed Alma Katsu’s debut The Taker in March, it came with the promise to be something like Die for Me aimed at the slightly older young adult reader. "Today" the line would probably use the words "A New Adult Die for Me" instead. The ambitious novel has unquestionably its merits and strong points, which I will come back to later, and will appeal to a certain target group – which I to my shame have not been able to label yet -, but it miserably failed the above mentioned pitch in both aspects: The only things The Taker has in common with Amy Plum’s successful paranormal romance are that it deals with the idea of immortality and that part of the plot takes place in Paris. And although two of the three narrators focus on the respective hero’s and heroine’s teenage years, I would never hesitate to sort the novel into the "regular adult" section next to dark books on the blurry edge to paranormal like The Gargoyle or thrillers about mentally unstable killers, who tell their own story in hindsight and drift off to their grandparents’ unhappy childhoods while they are at it. It should go without saying that I would never discourage a teen from picking up books from those shelves. I would say: Read what you want to, but know what it is you are wanting. And that is why I am sitting here to elaborate.
The Taker could be called a gloomy thriller, dark historic fiction or a book about alchemy and magic. But furthermost, as the title hazily suggests, in its core The Taker is a frightening study of obsession in different ugly forms. The story is arranged in three chronological, but interwoven layers told from three points of view.
The most recent layer shows us middle-aged, jaded small-town surgeon Dr. Luke Finley, who is divorced, lonely and extremely weary of his future in the unfriendly town St. Andrews, Maine. When a beautiful murderess is brought in by the Sheriff for the medical check-up that has to precede her police interrogation, he immediately falls so hard for the young girl and her weird explanations of being immortal and having done her companion a favor by ending his much too long life, that he risks everything to help her flee across the border in a "borrowed" car and becomes an accomplice without even looking back.
In the course of the middle layer killer Lanore McIlvrae tells Luke the story of her youth in a partly Puritan, party Catholic wood-cutting settlement in Main around 1809 and of her fateful move to Boston at the age of 17. All her life she had – like all the other girls and women in her village – been feverishly craving the undivided attention of rich and otherworldly beautiful Jonathan St. Andrews, who graciously admitted her to become his friend-like confidant, but who was too obsessed with himself and his unstillable sexual needs to bestow any kind of affection on her her or one of his uncountable married and unmarried bed-partners. No means to gain possession of Jonathan had been to dangerous, too evil or to stupid for Lanore, but eventually her parents had to send her to a Catholic convent in Boston to birth and hand over her out-of-wedlock offspring. Right off the boat she fell into the hands of immortal Adair's street hunters, who provided his drug-laden house parties with fresh, dispensable material, helpless girls meant to be fucked to death by the master of the house or his guests. Inexplicably to me – and to Adair's cold-hearted household staff as well – Lanore felt grateful and excited towards her kidnapper for deigning to to save her from bleeding internally to death by making her immortal, and strived hard to become his favorite mistress and to learn the art of seduction from him in order to be able to contribute to the household by luring in prey herself. In fact, her fascination with him began even before her life was out of the danger zone: "Despite my illness [she refers to her shredded intestines and her miscarriage], he had me that evening and I let him, surrendered to the thrill of his weight over me." Adair’s own obsession seemed to concentrate on beauty and perfection at first.
The deepest layer of the three-tiered story narrates the misery of his 14th-century youth in a third-person-point-of-view: His father, a Romanian nomad, sold his teenage son to a creepy, old alchemist employed by an entertainment-crazy Hungarian Count. Along with sympathetic Lanore the reader learns a lot about his complete loss of freedom, his utter loneliness, his purely sexual relationship with the physically and mentally disabled maid, his quiet hate for his unspeakably brutal, immortality-seeking master and his step-by-step foray into satisfying his sexual urges by sleeping with the mutilated corpses of village wenches, who his master regularly raped to death in his private dungeon and had him bury in the forest afterwards.
Yes, there is a lot of sex in The Taker. But, as already stated, the book is no paranormal romance and does not promote love. It doesn’t get very graphic, but it also does not hide anything: There are no glistening drops of fluid dancing on silky body parts to the rhythm of a sensually throbbing loin area. There are hiked-up petticoats in dirty barns, iron chains and primal screams in mouldy underground chambers, bruises and mortally wounded vital organs, there are forced threesomes and frantic, unexpected couplings in motel rooms. Although I can safely say that the romance-novel-style-overdose of sexual visuals is more often than not something I could do without, I would gladly exchange the corpse-groping and all the loveless abuse for some mushy minute-details-narration of how Lord X expertly leads Lady Y to her first orgasm ever. Honestly, I abhorred every single sexual encounter in The Taker, but I guess others might not. But what appalled and enraged me the most is the description of rape victims getting unwillingly aroused while being sexually abused and beaten to pulp. Partly the strangeness of Adair's sexual preferences is put a little into perspective when the secret around his narration's point-of-view (view spoiler)[which I, by the way, guessed much, much too early (hide spoiler)] is revealed, but, still, scenes like that do not sit well with me.
Another thing that stood between me and the ability to enjoy the book were the characters themselves. I did not remotely like any of them. I despised Lanore and her parents, Jonathan, Adair and his minions and certainly the alchemist, but I also did not get Luke, his unhealthy, illogical fascination with selfish Lanore, and his willingness to overlook that she is using him for her means in a very calculated way.
In addition, some of the facts that open Lanore's eyes are not logical at all, and the plot unnecessarily drags in places. I even contemplated giving up during the first third of the book. Plus, I felt as if the author wanted to mislead me in purpose by using elements that make the well-read fantasy reader associate "vampires": In the beginning it seems like Lanore has the ability to read thoughts and Adair's staff member Tilde is described as having sharpened teeth. But both hints turned into dead ends without a later explanation or apology.
Apropos end: The novel's ending points out dangerous things to come. Dangerous things Luke and Lanore remain unaware of. So you close the book with a lot of unease in your guts although you might not feel the urge to pick up the sequel. Do you like that? I definitely don’t.
Yet, I should not hide that although I easily anticipated most of the important plot mysteries, I think that the story-within-story-within-story structure has been well-planned and well-executed, that both historical eras seem to haven been well-researched and intricately depicted, that the writing shows talent and promise indeed. Savour, for instance, the novel's very first sentence to get a taste: „Goddamned freezing cold. Luke Finley’s breath hangs in the air, nearly a solid thing shaped like a wasp's nest, wrung of all its oxygen.“ That is beauty in the midst of mess, isn’t it?
Review in German (01.11.2008) : My most excellent young adult novel. Bitte mehr davon! My Most Excellent Year ist einer dieser Romane, bei denen alle...moreReview in German (01.11.2008) : My most excellent young adult novel. Bitte mehr davon! My Most Excellent Year ist einer dieser Romane, bei denen alle Fäden am Ende zu meiner Zufriedenheit verknüpft worden sind und Story und Charaktere mir so sympathisch waren, dass ich sie sofort nach dem Zuklappen des Buches bereits vermisste. Der Klappentext sagt eigenlich schon viel - obwohl sie kurz ist. Ich führe etwas aus: Hauptaktionspunkt der vielschichtigen, mehrere Jahre abdeckenden Geschichte ist eine High School in Boston (In der Nähe des Fenway Park, dem Stadion der Red Sox). Sie setzt sich zusammen aus für die Schule geschriebenen Berichten (z.B. mit dem TItel "My most excellent year"), Tagebucheinträgen, Listen, Lexikonartikeln, Chatprotokollen, Briefen und E-Mails.
Die Hauptfiguren sind: * T.C. Keller, der bewusst seine Noten auf einem niedrigen Level hält, mit Leidenschaft Baseball spielt, mit seinen Vater (Witwer) zusammenlebt, nach Außen als ein oberflächlicher Jock wirkt und große Anstrengungen unternimmt, die kühle, intelligente Alejandra Perez für sich zu gewinnen.
* Augie Wong, seit der Grunddschule T.C.s selbsterwählter Bruder. Sein Vater hat ein Buchladencafé, seine Mutter ist eine feministische Theaterkritikerin. Augie liebt Broadway-Musicals und Musical-Verfilmungen. Er kann alle weiblichen Parts auswendig und weiß nicht, dass er schwul ist (alle anderen wissen es), bis er sich in Andy Wrexler, Mädchenheld, verliebt. Augie bekommt die Leitung des jährlichen Theaterstücks der Schule zugesprochen.
* Alejandra Perez, Diplomatentochter, fühlt sich schon etwas zu T.C. hingezogen, schämt sich aber dafür, einen oberflächlichen Hohlkopf zu mögen. Ale geht offiziell zum Französisch-Unterricht, nimmt aber heimlich Stunden im Tanzen und Singen.
* Teddy Keller, T.C.s Vater, freut sich, dass sein Sohn wegen mangelnden Einsatzes so oft zu seiner Beratungslehrerin Lori muss, die er seit Jahren erfolglos zu einem Date überreden versucht.
* Hucky Harper, Heimkind, gehöhrlos und fünfjährig, beobachtet immer das Baseball-Training im Fenway Park zu. Dort lernt er T.C. kennen. Er schaut jeden Tag die Mary-Poppins-Verfilmung mit Julie Andrews an und wartet darauf, dass Mary Poppins kommt, um ihn zu retten.
Die Art, wie jede dieser Personen sich um die Probleme der anderen Personen sorgt, sich dabei positiv verändert, selbstkritisch und humorvoll ihre Situation und ihre Vergangenheit betrachtet, ist einfach nur schön gemacht. Ich konnte kaum fassen, dass dieses Buch von einem Mann geschrieben wurde. Seit Liebste Abby vom Autorenduo Hadley Irwin habe ich kein so gutes Buch über männliche Teenager mehr gelesen.
First read first in 2008. I need multiple reading dates, Godoreads!(less)
Oh, boy. Large parts of the book were so funny and gut-warming, I could quote every second page. But in the end my eyes burned from held-back tears. S...moreOh, boy. Large parts of the book were so funny and gut-warming, I could quote every second page. But in the end my eyes burned from held-back tears. So, so sad. It is a war-time story, I KNOW, but, Mr. Kluger, couldn't you just let him survive to humor me?
Oct. 18th: I've just re-read the last 40 pages and got wet eyes again. How can a book be so hilarious and so tragic at the same time? I just love Steve Kluger's style.(less)
*** 2.5 stars *** The teens-alone-in-outer-space thriller was suspense-laden enough to make me go on reading until the very last cliffhanging page, bu...more*** 2.5 stars *** The teens-alone-in-outer-space thriller was suspense-laden enough to make me go on reading until the very last cliffhanging page, but as the religious conflict, the fertility aka mating issues, the Lord-of-the-Flies-or-Gone-like, but highly improbable, kiddie rule on board of the deserted, damaged and slightly dusty, but peachy-going mega-ship Empyrean (120 boys aged between two and 15 keep everything running for almost six months from gravity to clean airfilters and from chicken coops to artificial rainforests - not mentioning personal hygiene or daily routines), the love-triangle and the lack of general information (conveniently easily explained: The adults just avoided painful talks about the destructed earth, the survivors left behind and the events that led to the departure of two selectively staffed rescue ships) are concerned, I was, simply said, permanently annoyed to the point of imploding in my space suit. I would read the sequel only if it was dropped into my lap without any effort or compensation expected from me in return.(less)