What does an urban-fantasy-love-story addict need more? Nothing really – apart from a good story line, carefully built-up suspense, changing points of...moreWhat does an urban-fantasy-love-story addict need more? Nothing really – apart from a good story line, carefully built-up suspense, changing points of view between the two main characters who should get dear to the reader faster than a heater warms a car’s interior in a Minnesota autumn. Shiver has all that – and more: friendship, mistakes, the pain of growing up, savouring the time you’ve got, desperately wishing for miracles, pounding hearts, not letting go and letting love win, a lot of insight into what it is that makes us human and poetry. What I liked about the werewolf concept was that the shapeshifters shed their humanity completely when becoming wolves: They weren’t mythical in-between-beings. They were wolves. They thought in pictures, lost memory of their names and their past and depending on whether they liked their own human selves or not, they welcomed the obliviation or tried to fight it. Instead of immortality they got animal-sized lifetimes with human summers that shortened from year to year. A wonderful set-up for a werewolf falling in love during his last summer with the girl he saved six years ago from an attack by his pack mates, don’t you think?(less)
Heart- and gut-wrenchingly good. I just ordered the sequel although still have 14 new books waiting to be read. The plot: Tomboy D.J. Schwenks is 15 g...moreHeart- and gut-wrenchingly good. I just ordered the sequel although still have 14 new books waiting to be read. The plot: Tomboy D.J. Schwenks is 15 going on 16, lives on a dairy farm and does almost all the hard work. In fact she is even flunking grades in order to get the barn clean and the cows milked and fed. Her father has an injured hip, started doing housework instead of farm work and just loves to complain about his daughter's working style. D.J.'s real passion is American football, but her school does not have a girls' team. Trying out for playing is not recommended anyway when you consider what happened to her older brothers, both famous quarterbacks at college. They dared to tell their father that they did not want to inherit the farm and were thrown out past Christmas. So D.J. has decided to shut up and do what is expected from her. Same seems to work for her younger brother Curtis, who does not talk at all, helps her on the farm, collects animal skulls and seems to enjoy his visits to the dentist. D.J.s view of her own situation gets shook up during summer holidays, when the football coach of the enemy school sends his quarterback Brian over to help on the farm and get trained by D.J. He sneers and calls D.J. a cow who just swallows what has been thrown into her trough. My opinion: This is the kind of story that sticks. I cried several time reading this novel. It was so sad but heart-warming to live through D.J.'s self-reflection, her learning to think for herself, the slow meltdown of the whole family never talking problems thoroughly through and the bitter-sweet experience of falling in love for the first time. What got to me hardest was D.J.'s parents' attitude towards her running the farm and messing up her grades in school for the family's sake. It is even more shocking when you take in mind, that D.J.'s mom is the principal of the local primary school.(less)
I want more of this! Why does it have to be a debut novel? If it weren't I would now be hungrily browsing titles at my favourite online bookshop order...moreI want more of this! Why does it have to be a debut novel? If it weren't I would now be hungrily browsing titles at my favourite online bookshop ordering every single thing Miss Cashore published - although about twenty books are awaiting their turn to be read. I did not feel that happy and exhilarated after reading young adult fantasy since "City of Bones" by Cassandra Clare. What a strong and lovable heroine Katsa is! And I fell for Prince Po (a silly name when you know what po means in German) with his cockiness, his vulnerability and his silver and gold eyes right away - even before Katsa was won over. And the suspense - oh my! Perfect, perfect, mindblowingly perfect. I cannot concentrate enough to write a summary at the moment. Maybe later when I am calmly into reading the next book.
Review written after reading 'Graceling' for the first time back in 2009 or 2008. Rereading it in 2013 I noticed that my love for story, characters and writing has not been diminished the slightest bit. A true favorite.(less)
I've just finished re-reading "Saving Francesca". I've wanted to do so for a long time, but since my wonderful friend Nic has presented me with a copy...moreI've just finished re-reading "Saving Francesca". I've wanted to do so for a long time, but since my wonderful friend Nic has presented me with a copy of The Piper's Son, which is a kind of follow-up some years later, lately, it was the perfect occasion to set the plan into action.
I am so much in love with this book. I am as enchanted with the style and the whole gang of unusual friends as I was when I first read it. The Spinelli Family, Will Trombal, Justine Kalinsky, Tara Finke, Siobhan Sullivan, Thomas Mackee and Jimmy Hailler, they are all flawed characters, difficult and sometimes annoying people, but so real and so wonderful. I am completely enamored by them all - even Brother Louis and Mr. Brolan and Cousin Angelina ... Would I have to hand-pick just a few alltime favorites (which is an almost impossible task in my opinion) I'd select "Francesca" to be among them without hesitation. Seriously, girls, Amy's and Roger's detour story is indeed epic and gorgeous and wise and funny, but how can it or other examples of contemporary young adult fiction compare to the story of Francesca getting a grip on herself, her family, her friends and her life (well, maybe Dairy Queen can ... a bit)?
Ms. Marchetta, I understand that your jewels take some time to write and polish, but could you not finish a couple more soon? Surely with your expertise the words flow effortlessly now. I want to hear about Jimmy and Justine and a lot of people I haven't met yet, badly!!
Finished for the first time on November 28th 2008.
Three aces (and five stars or more)!
Small-town Ohio. Sixteen-year-old Hallie Palmer, poker pro and...moreFinished for the first time on November 28th 2008.
Three aces (and five stars or more)!
Small-town Ohio. Sixteen-year-old Hallie Palmer, poker pro and high-school-drop-out escapes her life as the second child of eight in a christian family as she accepts a position as a live-in "yard-person" in the unconventional Stockton household, which consists of Judge Stockton, who - in the last stages of Alzheimer's - is being cared for by his wife Olivia, an eccentric activist, atheist and successful writer of magazine pornography, his son Bernard, antique dealer, Bernhard's husband Gil, stage director at the local theater ... and Rocky, an alcoholic chimpanzee who is devoted to cocktail-mixing and the catholic church.
The coming-of-age-novel passes about a year of Hallie's life. During this time Hallie becomes a valued member of the household, sheds her image as the town's teenage delinquent, repairs the relationship with her parents and learns a lot about friendship, trust, love, life and tolerance and almost as much about culture, history, gardening, cooking, etiquette and religion.
Even if one (like me) does not share Ms. Olivia's belief of a godless universe, the warmth of the displayed relationships, the quirky characters, the comic situations, the puns and the misunderstandings cannot fail to touch and entertain.
I really love this book and have added the following two volumes to my Christmas wish-list.(less)
I loved-loved it. Better than the first volume and in spite of an abundance of elements that usually irk me endlessly: An unsolvable love-triangle (vi...moreI loved-loved it. Better than the first volume and in spite of an abundance of elements that usually irk me endlessly: An unsolvable love-triangle (view spoiler)[I do think Tessa loves Will more, but it is clear, that she does not favor Jem only out of pity. She is attracted to him and genuinely likes him. I hope the author will not conveniently kill off Jem in one of the sequels, but how will she solve this? I need volume three now... (hide spoiler)], the uncomfortable dance around a private secret of one of the protagonists that is responsible for all kinds of pain and misunderstanding and the complete turn-around of one of the characters the reader has started to grow fond of - just to list a few. But never mind. Everything was truely pefect. I feel happy and am still bathing in that warm-stomached after-reading-bliss.
One more thing: Reading a book you really adore and unexpectedly fall in love with makes you be able to see other books you just enjoyed in perspective: After turning the last page I ran straight to my bookshelf, unceremoneously ripped out 13 books I had planned to keep and threw them on my swapping-pile. I love those moments in which I can feel the distinction between 'love' and 'like'. ["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I love this story in which Nisse goes to the hairdressers and orders a haircut that resembles a soft-ice-cone. At the school-festivity afterwards Niss...moreI love this story in which Nisse goes to the hairdressers and orders a haircut that resembles a soft-ice-cone. At the school-festivity afterwards Nisse is the fashion-hero, his mother looks skeptical and the hairdresser's salon has a new special. Unfortunately the German edition is out of print (I am considering to buy the English translation). (less)
**spoiler alert** Read for the first time on August 19th and 20th 2010 Short review: Great, inventive, dystopian fiction with a surprising ending tha...more**spoiler alert** Read for the first time on August 19th and 20th 2010 Short review: Great, inventive, dystopian fiction with a surprising ending that makes you jittery for the sequel, a tough, edgy, likable heroine, some tragedy, a little romance. The world building met exactly my taste: It was a little like the film "The Isle" and a little like the young adult novel Exodus by Julie Bertagna, but altogether pretty unique.
Long review (especially written for Teccc): Trella, who is by the old time counting system about seventeen years old, lives in a building that is her entire world, because no exit is known to the inhabitants. The world - called "Inside" - has existed for about 150.000 weeks now. A week consists of 100 hours and splits up into five work shifts and five off-time-shifts for each grown-up. Nobody knows what and where "Outside" may be. Rumor has it that the souls of well-behaving Insiders are released to the Outside, after their body has been fed to the "Chomper". "Inside" is two kilomenters long and two kilometers wide and has four levels, which are segmented into sectors. Apart from staircases and elevators the levels are connected by heating vents, water and electricity pipes, laundry and waste chutes. The population forms two classes: The 2.000 "uppers", living in the upper two levels are all decendants from ten powerful families. The 18.000 scrubs living and in the crowded barracks on the lower two levels believe the uppers live idle lives in spacious apartments, having to care for nothing, making decisions that effect them all without checking back. Although a passive attitude prevails, many scrubs resent having to live in large dormitories devoid of any privacy, having to hand over their newborns to a Care Mother in the care facility, laboring in the recycling plant, the laudry room, the vegetable or mutton farms, getting checked, punished or killed for misbehavior by the so-called "Pop Cops", the population control set up by the ruthless Trava family, who is in charge of Inside Security. Those who desperately wish for change set their hopes high whenever a "prophet" starts to gather followers. Prophets generally either preach that somewhere a "Gateway" to Outside must be hidden by the uppers, or that everything will end or begin when week 1.000.000 has been reached. Cool-headed Trella stays away from prophets. In fact, she tries to stay away from people altogether, which is almost impossible for a scrub, but she manages: Trella belongs to the pipe-cleaning-team, because her body is small and flexible. Instead of sleeping in her shared bunk she secretly crashes in heating vents or water pipes. It is widely assumed that Trella even knows every nook and niche of the pipe system in the upper levels, which is strictly off-limits to the majority of the scrubs. Her nickname "Queen of the Pipes" travels to the latest prophet "Broken Man", a wheel-chair-bound degraded upper, who claims to have hidden proof of the existence of "Gateway" in an upper level air-vent. Trella complies to help as a favor to her best and only friend Cogan, a mechanic. On one her dangerous journeys to the upper levels, which mark the slow start of a scrub revolt and bring her into the focus of the Pop Cops, she accidentally gets to know Riley, a teenage upper. And she begins to see, that her view of the uppers had been heavily colored by Pop Cop propaganda and that the secrets and problems of Inside reach much further that she had imagined.
Some reviewers complain that the talk about the design of and the day-to-day life of Inside delivered during the first chapters put them off. I did not feel like complaining. I soaked every detail up and fed it to the picture that constructed itself in my head. Throughout the story, bit after bit was added to the first bigger chunk.
Trella is a wonderful heroine. You could say she is more young-adult-compatible than Yelena or Opal. She did not suffer more traumas than the rest of her fellow scrubs. She does not seem older than her age. She isn't that tough. Her Care Mother (CM) loved and secretly encouraged her to think for herself, her care sibling Cogan looked out for her and held bullies at bay. She has spunk and she dares to cross boundaries. She spices up her life by challenging herself. She despises the other scrubs for their compliance and shakes her head about Cogan's sunny disposition and his wish to get along with everybody. Her journey of personal growth is believable. Cogan is a wonderful best friend and Riley is a perfect love interest. There were characters who seemed to be good and turned out to be twisted in the end, and there were characters who could or could not be trusted, but you never knew. The Trava family reminded me of Commander Ambrose's security people. Yes, the whole set-up with everybody wearing the uniforms indicating their position and handiwork reminded my of the society of Ixia. In spite of that Mrs. Snyder has created something entirely new and different from her Study/Glass world.
The question prevailing my thoughts after reading the last page was: "When can I pre-order Outside In?" There are so many possibilities hinted at by the astonishing ending.(less)
I loved reading 'Bitterblue' , loved it even more than reading 'Fire'. It is very important for me to say that, because I had been extremely hesitant...more I loved reading 'Bitterblue' , loved it even more than reading 'Fire'. It is very important for me to say that, because I had been extremely hesitant before finally picking it up months after it had been delivered to my postbox. The decision to read a sequel to a story you believed to be perfect as it was is tough, so tough ... and irreversible: You cannot unread a book - especially the parts that bug you will stick like superglue to your otherwise forgetful synapses - same as you cannot unwatch the movie version of a favorite once its visuals have invaded your mind.To illustrate my point: I will always be sorry that I was too curious to ignore what happened after 'Twilight', I am not sure if I ever will read 'Linger' (I own the hardcover), and I had absolutely no interest in seeing anyone impersonate Elizabeth Bennett on screen until Keira Knightley came along.Now, the birth of 'Bitterblue', which I preordered as soon as it was possible, took long and was laced with rumors and speculations: Did the author suffer writers block and was forced to scrape together something unmentionably bad just to fulfill a three-books-contract she had optimistically signed aeons before? Was it true that Cashore's editors demanded that she started from scratch, because her original draft had been unreadable? A bunch of severely disappointed and apologetically outraged reviews by Goodreads friends whose views on books I value fueled the already crackling unease: ... a confusing plot, a lack of drive, unengaging characters, a bittersweet, but unmoving romance were mentioned and - what shocked me most - it looked like Katsa's and Po's hard-won love would fall victim to unpassable differences in opinion or to lack of honesty with each other. Luckily I overcame my apprehension, attributed more weight to the opinions of the readers who proclaimed themselves to be awed and enchanted and the author to have grown as a writer. I hesitatingly started, I got hooked and I kept reading and savoring. I don't mean to say that there was anything wrong with the negative reviews or that I should be weary of their creators' warnings in the future. How many precious hours have been saved, because to-the-point explanations of a novel's drawbacks convinced me not to spend my time or my money. And how many gems have I discovered just because lovingly worded praise on Goodreads made me want a certain book desperately inspite of its uninspiring cover or its boring official description. The discrepancy just shows with vehemence that there is no reader whose reaction to books exactly mirrors mine. In the midst of all the precious advice and the pro and contra of well-written reviews I have to make the decision whether to read or not to read on my own after all - filtering the given information .... and ... trusting my guts.For me 'Bitterblue' turned out to be great fantasy with great characters - in my opinion Katsa and Po were just ... well ... Katsa and Po -, some mystery, some romance and an extremely captivating study of a country that has to heal and rebuild itself after getting rid of a destructive, psychopathic dictator. You would think eight years are a lot of time - plenty to restructure the government, to allow the people to breathe out and enfold - but Cashore's tale effectively shows they are next to nothing. After having been freed from a cruel, poisonous and unpredictable ruler people still have damaged bodies, damaged souls, twisted minds, reduced families, built-up fears, unspeakable memories, strange self-imposed regulations and a lot of mistrust. Queen Bitterblue's band of oldish graceling advisors, her struggle with them and their hesitation to talk about the past and her question whether starting out with a young untried court would not serve her county better reminded me of my own country's last post-war era: The administration in the then recovering Germany had to work, the school system had to go on, things had to be minded asnd supervised. For those practical considerations a lot of the teachers who - whether out of conviction or conformation - had taught kids the Nazi doctrine during Hitler's reign, kept on teaching after the war and a lot of the administrative staff in the cities - the same who probably were responsible for i.e. sealing deportation letters in their former districts or seizing jewish property - served the new aministration. For somehow their expertise was needed; same as the experienced teachers were considered to be necessary to keep the crumbling civilization afloat. That is unsettlingly erie, in my opinion. No wonder most of the population prefered not to discuss their personal war histories and those of their next of kin during the 40s, 50s and 60s. They chose to ignore the past and put all their strength into building the future and getting physically comfortable instead. Consequently there remain a lot of scars under the surface - even after a handful of decades.Bitterblue, who had been a little - and because of her mother's feeble efforts partly sheltered - girl during King Leck's reign of manipulative terror and abuse, experiences a similar kind of unseen eeriness first hand, being an unsure and powerless puppet operating on half-knowledge at first. But she grows as a personality, as a woman and as a ruler. And that is a beautiful and exhilarating thing to behold - her personal sacrifices, throwbacks and the sometimes painfully slow progress nonewithstanding.Thank you, Kristin Cashore, for taking that special amount of time to construct a special story featuring a special - yet ordinary (="graceless") - heroine, who amazed me against all odds.(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)
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)
”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)