Sarah Diemer just keeps sharpening her craft with each story I read from her. This short story, The Witch Sea, is no exception, for it boasts exquisit...moreSarah Diemer just keeps sharpening her craft with each story I read from her. This short story, The Witch Sea, is no exception, for it boasts exquisite writing that rivals even some of the offerings in Diemer's longer works such as The Dark Wife and Sugar Moon. For those who have yet to read Diemer's work, I would say this short story is a great place to start. (If you need any more goading, the romance is between a witch and a selkie maiden... Can't say that isn't a hook in and of itself, right?)(less)
After I finished The Raging Quiet, a part of my heart wept for this sad truth: many wonderful young adult books are going out of print and being overs...moreAfter I finished The Raging Quiet, a part of my heart wept for this sad truth: many wonderful young adult books are going out of print and being overshadowed by books with shiny, flashy covers and dime-a-dozen plots and characters. Imagine fifty or a hundred years from now: will the "classic" books for young adults be some paranormal insta!love angst fests that (sadly) have the large audiences (and large print runs) in the here and now? What will happen to these hidden gems that sadly go out of print before their time? Will they be left to collect dust in libraries, sold off at used book stores, and forgotten as we continue to plough our way into an all-digital age? When people look back (if they look back at all), will this era of booming young adult literature merely be categorized by the easy sells and the cheap plots? If so, what a sad, sad thing that is to me.
In a way, The Raging Quiet left me with many of the same feelings I had upon finishing Keturah and Lord Death (another hidden gem which is sadly out of print) and many of Melina Marchetta's books (particularly her fantasy offerings). All the stories mentioned show realistic shades of suffering, pain, longing, redemption, and love -- but The Raging Quiet felt even more resonant, given that I could almost imagine such a tale occurring long, long ago.
Marnie Isherwood has not been dealt the kindest blows in life: she finds herself married to a much older man after her father's health declines and her family's well-being is threatened by jealousy and lies. Though at first she thinks her husband a kind and honorable man, she quickly learns that he is far from the man she had thought him to be. Now nestled in a cottage by a cove, just outside the small town of Torcurra, Marnie feels more alone and hopeless than ever. But there are glimmers of hope in two people she meets: a kindly priest and a mad boy believed to be possessed by demons.
The Raging Quiet is a thoughtful book, the kind that comes along rarely and catches you off-guard with its sincerity in showing both the joys and pains of life. The novel is one-part morality play, one-part coming-of-age journey, and one-part love story. Though all those elements on their own are not noteworthy or unique by any means, together they wield surprising weight in making this tale -- of prejudices and punishments, bonds and brokenness, realizations and rejoicing -- an unforgettable read.
Undeniably, however, what really makes this novel pull at the heartstrings is the cast of characters, namely Marnie and the "mad boy" (who comes to be known as Raven). It's amazing and heartwarming to read how the two characters grow into both themselves and their friendship over the course of the story -- and how their companionship is often what saves them when they are in threat of losing themselves to darker thoughts and actions. That kind of character growth and depth isn't found often, so I relished every page I had with these two characters.
Needless to say, The Raging Quiet is a book I wholeheartedly recommend for its great heart and meaning. Even if historical fiction isn't your fancy, I can guarantee that there is at least something you can glean from reading this book. Just think: odds are that you'll likely enjoy it as much as, if not more than, the commercial young adult books out there on shelves now. Do yourself the favor and consider it, for you may find yourself surprised in the end.
(My thanks go out to Lora, without whom I would never have even known about this book. I owe you a great book recommendation, darling, for steering me towards this wonderful gem of a novel!)(less)
Sugar Moon by Sarah Diemer is one of those books that had every potential for me to fall in love with it. Magic! Witches! Magic markets! Supernatural...moreSugar Moon by Sarah Diemer is one of those books that had every potential for me to fall in love with it. Magic! Witches! Magic markets! Supernatural creatures! Good and evil! As it is, this novella was really rather wonderful -- but I couldn't help the feeling that it was an idea that could have used with some more flesh and exposition.
The story follows a Maja (a witch who believes in a Goddess whose only command is to love) named Elise who lives a lonely life, traveling in her bandyloo (akin to a gypsy caravan) and bringing magic to other people's lives even as her own life seems devoid of it. The Moon Market, a gathering held among the Maja, is one of her only opportunities to socialize, and her brother Tom urges her to find a companion, as it is unnatural for any grown Maja to be alone.
But Elise has more concerns than just finding love, as sightings of the Fevered -- mysterious creatures who lurk almost as shadows blotting out the landscape -- remind her of the terrible past she thought had been laid to rest.
I'll be the first to admit that Sugar Moon offered me a very fascinating world, but the story didn't seem to rely on its unique elements -- the Moon Market, the various social groups/divisions within this world, even the true danger of the Fevered -- as much as it could have. Instead, the story is very much an internal account, the narrative drawn tightly around Elise and her own experiences.
The story in this first installment focuses on Elise meeting her love interest, Via, and then being sent on a journey to help banish the Fevered once and for all. However much I enjoyed the world within this novel, I can't say I enjoyed the romance -- one that's built on a mystic bond rather than companionship over a period of time -- as much as I should have. Though the nature of such a relationship fit into the world of this story, I'm not romantic enough to say I can ever back "insta-love" (made famous by many YA paranormal books), which to me never seems as true as love built from time and experience. Of course, other readers will likely find charm in such a pair twined together by fate, so take this reviewer's gripe with a grain of salt.
As always, Sarah Diemer's writing is just lovely. Though her stories thrive on characters rather than plot, she has such a way of weaving words that the reading experience is wonderful even without action-centric moments or plot twists and revelations within the narrative. It's easy to imagine your way into this world Diemer has crafted, and that in and of itself is a hard feat for any writer to manage.
However much I wished it would have been longer and deeper, Sugar Moon is a very solid fantasy novella built on whimsical moments, pretty prose, and vibrant emotions. Here's hoping that the sequel, Marrow Moon, will be just as engaging while also fleshing out even more of this magical world.(less)
Confession: before this year, I never read much science fiction. Why? Well, the genre is very convoluted to me, a person who is much more fantasy-orie...moreConfession: before this year, I never read much science fiction. Why? Well, the genre is very convoluted to me, a person who is much more fantasy-oriented than science fiction-oriented.
However, I have to say that, if more sci-fi writers wrote like Phoebe North, I would be much more inclined to pick up sci-fi novels. She brings to mind the lush writing of Ursula K. Le Guin, except with a much more accessible flair.
Vadix, the alien character in this short story, is a longing, wanting soul. He wants to be with his mate, Velsa, but his studies come first. In a world where mating is as much of a necessity as it is a "recreational activity," Vadix and Velsa, who put their academic goals first, are seen as strange by their siblings and peers -- but still they continue on their paths even as a strange star looming overhead threatens to change their futures entirely beyond what they could imagine. . .
I can't wait to read more about Vadix and his future. There is just so much potential for a great story to unfold.
So, yes, you should read it because it's free and awesome. My prediction? Phoebe North may just revolutionize science fiction for young adults.(less)
Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus, is a book bound to divide book lovers into the "loved it" and "hated it" categories. Some people will adore the prose; others will despise it for being flowery and excessive. Some readers will hate the false promises the blurb on the jacket copy offers; others will still find something magical to love and admire in this novel despite the deception within the blurb. As for me, I was divided in my opinions. I mean, I really, really wanted that story the blurb promised about a "fierce competition" and "a deep, passionate, and magical love." I still want someone to write it since, sadly, Morgenstern didn't give it to me.
What Morgenstern did give me, however, was a lovely novel about the passage of time surrounding a circus concocted by magical means. The circus here is not just a location: it too is a character, one that is more vibrant than many of the other characters within this story. Morgenstern succeeds at making the magic wondrous and enchanting, although those looking for the rules to the enchantments will come away disappointed. There is no rhyme or reason to the magic here: it simply is, and that is as much a strength as it is a deficit.
The novel has no consistent timeline or narrative either, given that the chapters alternate among the past and present, standalone moments from the circus itself, and character viewpoints of varying importance. Although The Night Circus contains literary merit, it doesn't have quite enough spark to achieve everything all its build-up promised.
Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) has an uncommon inception within London in 1873: two gentlemen, one who calls himself Prospero and the other who dons a grey suit and is known as Alexander, make a wager that two pupils of theirs will undergo a magical competition. Prospero's choice is his daughter, Celia, whom he has only been aware of for the past six months. Alexander, however, does not make his choice until the following January: an orphaned boy whose name Alexander does not care to know. These two children become bound together by a magical pact, but they remain unaware of each other for many years. Only once the magical circus, the chosen venue for the competition, is in its planning stages does the real game begin...
"Competition" doesn't quite fit what transpires within the circus because of the magic of Celia and Marco (the orphaned boy). There are no showdowns, no competitive scenes, no dangerous moments. Instead, the novel showcases how Celia and Marco try to one-up each other with how enchanting their various contributions to the circus can be. These enchantments, however, devolve into almost a flirtation between the two as they silently create new tents and exhibits for the sole purpose of impressing one another. It's a nice idea, but it would have born more weight if both sides had been aware of each other's identities sooner in the novel. Somehow, we're meant to believe that, with so much secrecy abounding, these two can honestly, truly fall in love. And that is one of the greatest flaws within The Night Circus: the love story is not deep, passionate, dangerous, or even really sensical, and it makes the story weaker than it otherwise might have been.
The first meaningful conversation between Celia and Marco occurs halfway through the book. Then, Morgenstern does the unthinkable: the next chapter is set three years later, and suddenly Marco is proclaiming, "I'm in love with her." Really? Really? There needed to be some transition between the two chapters, something to bridge the gap to show that something was growing in the hearts of these two individuals now that they were both aware of one another. Instead, the love between the two is shoddy and gimmicky, the stuff of an hour-and-a-half movie rather than a nearly 400-page novel with a literary bent.
Now, you must be wondering: "Jillian, if you had such a problem with the love story, why give the novel three-and-a-half stars?" Because the novel isn't just the love story. There was plenty more for me to like in this novel: the segments about the circus's various attractions, a plot line following a boy named Bailey who's in love with the circus, and the inclusion of rêveurs (dreamers) who follow the circus around the world. Basically, the circus is the main character...and, given what I read about it, I knew that if such a place existed I would probably be in love with it too. So I couldn't dislike the novel simply because the story introduced me to such an intriguing, enchanting place.
All my qualms and opinions aside, The Night Circus is a charming story, but it won't be for everyone simply because it's not as universal as it could have been. It may be a literary smash-hit for a time, but will it be a classic read in the decades to come? I doubt it. However, if Erin Morgenstern can hone her craft a bit more, then maybe someday she really will become a household name. For now, though, The Night Circus is the debut novel that will either enchant or alienate readers. Whether you will be one or the other, that all depends on how you fare with the circus and its offerings if you give this novel a go.(less)
The capaill uisce plunged down the sand, skirmishing and bucking, shaking the sea form out of their manes and the Atlantic from their hooves. They scr...moreThe capaill uisce plunged down the sand, skirmishing and bucking, shaking the sea form out of their manes and the Atlantic from their hooves. They screamed back to the others still in the water, high wails that raised the hair on my arms. They were swift and deadly, savage and beautiful. The horses were giants, at once the ocean and the island, and that was when I loved them.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is a difficult novel to describe: it is one-part race novel, one-part horse appreciation tale, and one-part coming-of-age journey with dashes of horror and magic and just a tiny pinch of romance. It has all the materials to be a great and unforgettable tale...but somehow the pieces never come together quite exactly as it feels they should.
Every November, the small island of Thisby becomes a tourist trap as curious people travel to see a daring spectacle: the Scorpio Races, an event in which people ride upon capaill uisce, deadly water horses with bloodthirsty habits and madness when faced with the place of their origins, the ocean. No one is ever guaranteed to walk away from the race alive; death has become an all too common occurrence among these island folk.
It's such an intriguing, exciting concept...but honestly the horrific outcomes involving the water horses are only a small part of this novel. The true core of the story is much more simple and common yet nonetheless powerful: ties to family, home, animals, and dreams are the real driving forces of what make this story less of a letdown and more of a win. Though the story has flaws and pacing issues, it does have a lot of charm with its focus on the ties that bind.
However, that same slice-of-life focus is also one of the novel's most noticeable flaws: the story and leave long stretches of time with just build-up and development. Some readers may come away feeling a bit cheated because the title does not quite live up to its promise with the word "races". Instead of offering a war cry when it came to the main event, The Scorpio Races gives whispers and mutters. For me, the meaningful end to the tale more than made up for its beginning blunders and missteps, but I know that others may not end up feeling the same.
Overall, I found The Scorpio Races to be a novel that rather subverted its own promise. I came into the story expecting a tale of horror and gore; instead, I received a thought-provoking look into the life of a small island bound to tradition and magic. In the end, I was happy with the exchange. I can only hope that other readers will have a similar reading experience.(less)
(Note: Goodreads friends and followers, you know me by now. You know that, even as much as I love a book, my reviews aren't always a resounding, "Oh m...more(Note: Goodreads friends and followers, you know me by now. You know that, even as much as I love a book, my reviews aren't always a resounding, "Oh my goodness, you need to READ THIS NOW! YOUR LIFE WILL BE SO MUCH FULLER BECAUSE OF IT!" I'm not that naive or arrogant to think that the books I love will be the books you love. Instead, my reviews are...chronicles of the experiences I had with books, and if that can help you decide whether certain books will be for you or not, then I'll be all the happier. However, sometimes I am a gushing mess with books I love, and I don't note the flaws present. I will try to be mindful of this tendency of mine as I write this review.)
Hope is hugging me, holding me in its arms, wiping away my tears and telling me that today and tomorrow and two days from now I will be just fine and I'm so delirious I actually dare to believe it.
Two years ago, I had my first experience with a young adult dystopian novel: Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games. I fell in love with the characters, found myself fascinated yet horrified by the circumstances of the world, and became invested in a wonderful story that still makes me feel a tangle of emotions to this day. In some respects, Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me gave me some of the same emotions I had back then as I stayed up to the wee hours of the morning just to read what happened next to Katniss, Peeta, and everyone else. Shatter Me left me expectant, worried, and intrigued with every page I turned. It was a stressful reading experience, definitely, but all the stress I felt was pent-up through the heroine, Juliette.
Juliette, you see, hasn't been touched for 264 days. Inside of her is a curse gift that brings deathdeathdeath agony to anyone she touches, and this strange ability has led to her being locked away in an asylum. Isolation takes its toll on Juliette, and her only real solace is writing away in a notebook and spinning phrases in such a way that they seem overwrought and not entirely rational or "normal." Then the unthinkable occurs: Juliette is given a cellmate, and everything she thought she knew begins to expand and spin out of her control entirely.
Shatter Me is a dystopian novel but, unlike others of the genre, the novel is less about external conflict (though there is some of that; it wouldn't be a novel if there weren't) and more about internal conflict. To make my meaning more clear, let me explain with a comparison: one of my friends recently directed me to a script called Maggie about a teenage girl bitten by a zombie and her slow change into one of the undead. What do zombies and one girl's transformation into one have to do with this novel? Because that script is about a big idea (zombie infestation worldwide) narrowed down to a character (Maggie) and her experiences. In some ways, Shatter Me, is much like that: it's about a big idea (a dystopian world headed by a secretive totalitarian government), but instead it focuses on one character's role in it (Juliette). Given how so many writers focus on the "big ideas" and sacrifice deep characterization because of it, I was very happy with the way this first novel developed, driven by Juliette and her ramblings thoughts.
Another hurdle of this novel is the prose, something that I feel will probably alienate many readers since...it's not exactly typical to read novels with lines like I'm catapulted across the room by my own fear or My mouth freezes in place. Also, the strike-outs may become a teensy-bit annoying to some readers. As for my experience, I was surprised: the prose didn't bother me. It actually reminded me of a verse novel (which, I know, many people don't like...but I find some of them very lovely, albeit a bit thin plot-wise). And it also helped that the prose fit the character. Juliette is an isolated girl, left alone with nothing but her own thoughts and words. Her thoughts, eccentric and detailed as they are, are coping mechanisms. The words help her to distance herself from her situation, and even after her life begins to brighten she still relies on her old habits of describing things and actions in an unnatural way. What would have bothered me is if Juliette hadn't seemed a bit "different" after spending so much time alone. Then I would have thought her a robot, and the story would not have drawn me in nearly as much.
The hero, Adam, and the antagonist, Warner, also managed to get my heartstrings all tangled. I couldn't help noting some of the sweetness and tenderness I had seen in Peeta Mellark's character within Adam Kent. In contrast, Warner...is a sadistic bastard of a character, but his obsession with Juliette and her powers is as sorrowful as it is pitiful and disturbing. Though a part of me dreads the love triangle already beginning to form, a greater part of me finds the dynamics fascinating since Adam and Warner are two opposite ends of the spectrum. One is heroic and kind; the other is cruel and nearly mad during certain moments. Even though it's a no-brainer who the "right" choice is, one must wonder how this will all play out if Juliette begins to look at herself as a monster again.
I'm not going to lie: the direction this novel takes is familiar yet still a bit surprising. When I opened this book, I hadn't known what to expect...but, near the end, I found myself at a complete one-eighty from what I had first expected. That in and of itself is a good thing, so I'm hoping that the rest of the trilogy will continue to bring surprises to the table. With the ending, I actually felt that I had a glimpse of what Tahereh Mafi had been hoping to accomplish with this novel. It's an origins story of transformation and healing amid darkness, despair, and loneliness.
The only major thing that irked me a little in this first novel was that the lack of other female characters was...quite noticeable. It gets a tad annoying that all the other characters (who matter) are boys in this first installment. No matter how strong Juliette becomes as a character, somehow it will feel a little lacking if she's the lone girl amid adoring males. I love strong heroines even more when they have a few other strong females around them. As much as I really enjoyed this first installment, my reading experiences with the next two novels may be hindered as far as enjoyment goes if Juliette remains the one girl who matters in the story.
Mixed though the opinions may be about this novel, Shatter Me really surprised me with its take on the dystopian genre, narrative style, and characterization. I look forward to seeing what will happen as the story progresses throughout the trilogy, so here's hoping the ride will continue to be exhilarating to me as a reader. As for whether you should try this one for yourself...I advise making use of preview chapters before committing to read the entire novel. Shatter Me isn't going to be for everyone, but I hope that it will find the readers who will appreciate and savor it for what it is and be able to ignore the flaws that may hamper full enjoyment of this novel.(less)
I turn around now, and see them laughing, but unlike Beethoven, I could already hear them. I always knew they were there. Be...more(Actual Rating: 4.5 stars)
I turn around now, and see them laughing, but unlike Beethoven, I could already hear them. I always knew they were there. Behind me. Even this whole year, when I didn't see them, I always knew they were there.
The lack of surprise doesn't make it any less awesome. Because I get a different revelation now, better than Beethoven's. I'm in love. . .with my stupid, fallen-apart family.
Chase "Everboy" McGill lives for the summers he spends with his family in their summer home by the beach. Rather than feel fulfilled by the other dozens of weeks in the year, Chase defines himself and his family by summer because, to him, summer holds the most meaning, the most answers, the most everything. Summer is the constant even while his life changes and spins out of his control. Spread over four consequent summers in Chase's life, Invincible Summer embodies everything there is to love about summer -- and everything there is to mourn about it too.
Just as summer is a constant, Chase's family are his constants, his crutches, his rocks, his burdens. His parents try to hide their marital tension for the sake of upholding the summer goal of vacation and relaxation. His older brother Noah disappears as he pleases as a way to tear himself away from the weakness of caring too much about his family. Younger sister Claudia is forever trying to act older than her age, wearing bikinis and make-up and trying to flirt and seduce in equal measures, while younger brother Gideon lives his life without the aid of hearing.
Then there are the Hathaways, their summer neighbors, who are also constants in and of themselves: beautiful Melinda who quotes Albert Camus and eyes both Chase and Noah at different times; wily boy Shannon who hopes that the Hathaway and McGill clans will join through marriage someday; and sweet Bella who has a crush on Chase.
There are just so many things to love about this book. The characters. The prose. The story. The intensity and uncertainty of youth. The unpredictable quality of life itself. Even the Camus quotes, which could have been high-handed or (at worst) completely unnecessary, somehow just fit so well.
Chase's story isn't a fun one -- or, at least, it's not this ideal 'picture perfect summer' story. Pain, regret, resentment, and bitterness all play a part in this tale, but that's life. Life can be so many things just as this book is so many things.
While I can't say this book was perfect, it meant something to me. It resonated. It spoke. It voiced so many things so eloquently and powerfully.
Take it from me: Invincible Summer is worth the time to read. You will feel nostalgic for your own summers of fun and regret. You will close your eyes and recall a time when life was simpler but not necessarily better -- but your perspective was different. You were young, you were invincible, you were everything. Summer was everything and more.
Read this book. Remember those days. You may learn something from the reading and remembering.(less)
Note: I am sorry to everyone reading this, but this book doesn't come out until April 17th, 2012. However, if you can get your hands on an early revie...moreNote: I am sorry to everyone reading this, but this book doesn't come out until April 17th, 2012. However, if you can get your hands on an early reviewer copy, please read it. And everyone else who doesn't, mark your calendars for April 2012. I can almost guarantee you won't regret giving this book a try.
What I didn't expect was to fall so hard for the story, the characters, and the prose. This book is beautiful in a way that few books are. It is raw on emotion without being angsty; it is deep without feeling contrived; and at times it is sweet without being saccharine. Storytelling is a difficult balance to maintain, but this book had a wonderful flow to it even though the characters were experiencing upheaval both emotionally and mentally.
Gone, Gone, Gone is set in Maryland a year after September 11th, 2001, and centers around the time of the D.C. sniper shootings. Now, I don't know about anyone else living outside of the D.C. area, but I knew about the sniper shootings even though I lived all the way in Chicago. The events that unfolded cast shadows across state lines. Each new report from the national media left a sense of dread in my stomach: If that can happen there, then what's stopping it from happening here? That kind of thought imprints its own sense of paranoia into the trappings of everyday life, so I could only imagine how those living in or around D.C. felt at the time. But Hannah Moskowitz's novel didn't allow me to just imagine; it made me feel and fear right alongside the characters.
Lest I make you think that Gone, Gone, Gone is a typical 'message' book, it isn't. It also contains a very solid romantic element that gives flesh and heart to the bones of the plot. Craig is a fifteen-year old boy who takes in stray animals to cope with the emptiness and helplessness he feels for not being able to 'fix' a boy who mattered to him. Lio is a fifteen-year old boy who survived cancer even though his twin brother died of it. Both boys have issues, flaws, and emotional strains aplenty -- but they find some solace in one another for reasons they will not or cannot admit to themselves.
To say the friendship between Craig and Lio is bittersweet is an understatement. At times when I was reading this novel, I really wanted to shake Craig by the shoulders and shout at him, "What the hell are you doing?! You are ruining everything!" Their developing relationship tugged at my heartstrings, melted my heart at times, and even made me smile. What a rare thing! The progression of the romance was realistic in that perfect, awkward, unsure way that all teenage relationships seem to have -- and I loved every minute of it because it made the story ring even more truly (even though it frustrated me to no end when I just wanted to push the boys together and say, "Kiss, dang it!").
Overall, I was just really amazed and impressed by Gone, Gone, Gone because it was one of those books that just got to me in a way that few things do. I am really hoping that most people who read this book will have that same feeling as they come away from this story, but there's only one way for you to know for sure: READ IT.(less)
(This novel tore my heart out and then handed it back to me, all the while giving a sad but sheepish smile. My love for this book is probably not enti...more(This novel tore my heart out and then handed it back to me, all the while giving a sad but sheepish smile. My love for this book is probably not entirely rational, but I will attempt to write a coherent review that doesn't descend into gushing and babbling.)
I'm not always certain why some books affect me more than others. Sometimes I think a few of them merely catch me at the right times and places, hitting me when I'm emotionally weak or mentally exhausted. Then, when I look back at the reviews I've written, I often think, "Okay, jog my memory. Why did this book affect me so much, and why did I rate it so highly?"
In a few months' time, I hope that thought won't creep into my head when I think of Brenna Yovanoff's sophomore novel, The Space Between, a darkly beautiful story about demons and mortals, grief and pain, healing and redemption. Here and now, I know exactly why it pierced my heart and left me so moved: the novel, despite being filled with supernatural and otherworldly elements, spoke of honesty and humanity...and it didn't hold back a shred when it came to the painful and heartbreaking bits. But it wasn't cruel in its execution because it still nonetheless offered hope, a kind whisper that said, "Everything may not be all right now, but it can get better. Just wait and see. You'll never know if you don't give your life a chance."
I know those words well, but even when I'm faced with them I don't always believe in their truth. There have been so many times in my life when I've felt like skidding to a halt, digging my heels into the dirt, and saying, "No, this is too much. I can't take it anymore. Just give me some peace already." But I didn't always think it out of grief or pain or depression. Sometimes I thought it simply out of boredom, out of the dread of continued monotony in my colorless life, out of the terrifying thought that this may be all my life will ever be. Those dark days, however, are like unruly elements: I may have weeks of overcast skies, some days with pouring rain and lightning-torn clouds, but they eventually pass...even as I secretly harbor the fear that the day may come that the clouds never recede. With those experiences of mine, I read this book with an open heart that managed to resonate with these characters and their own emotions, all jagged edges and unfulfilled hopes and disquieting fears.
The Space Between follows a girl and a boy, two strangers embroiled in the dark (and sometimes deadly) matters of hell, heaven, and earth. In Pandemonium (the city of demons, otherwise known as Hell), Daphne is a bored girl, the daughter of Lucifer and Lilith, who finds comfort in the familiarity of her surroundings but gleans no true happiness from it. On the mortal plane, Truman is a teenage boy, teetering on the edge of self-destruction as the waters of grief pull him down more and more each day. These two, who otherwise would never have known of each other's existence, meet in one haunting moment, leading them through a series of seemingly unconnected events that draw them closer to one another...and toward inevitability.
Brenna Yovanoff's take on demons (and angels) is unique yet still faithful to various mythologies, beliefs, and legends. Though I'm usually always wary when it comes to any angel/demon fiction these days, I knew as soon as I read Yovanoff's gorgeous prologue – telling the tale of Lilith through the narration of Daphne – that I never should have worried. Yovanoff has done her research, all the while adding her own personal flair to the familiar names (like Beelzebub, Azrael, etc.) and elements found in demon mythos.
As usual with Yovanoff's work, her writing is stunning, and I found myself rereading passages and contemplating them even though I always felt the need to turn the pages to find out what happened next in the plot. But her writing is not simply "pretty prose": instead, her words bear weight and meaning due to the characters, their struggles, and their emotions. No one should ever accuse Yovanoff of having lifeless prose, for hers is some of the most honest I've ever read.
As for the story itself...I found myself surprised and twisted and turned quite a bit throughout the novel, and I would have been disappointed if there hadn't been surprises (and some sucker-punched moments) in store for me while I read. There were plenty of scenes that tugged at my heart and drew sighs (and even some tears) from me. It was sometimes very much a painful reading experience for all the emotion of it, but I felt relieved (and a bit elated) once I finished. However, even as I read that final page, I knew I would miss the characters, their world, and everything this novel had offered me. That in and of itself says enough about how I felt about this story, don't you think?
Now that I've gotten all my gushing out, I am sad to say that The Space Between won't be for everyone, but I urge anyone who's interested in it to give it a try. Daphne and Truman may even manage to win your heart just as they did with mine.(less)
Don't let my extended read time fool you. I found that I savored this book more by taking my time with it -- and, oh, was it a joy and an adventure.
Th...moreDon't let my extended read time fool you. I found that I savored this book more by taking my time with it -- and, oh, was it a joy and an adventure.
This book is brilliant in so many ways just like a brightly shining star blazing in the night sky. A part of me wants to dance and sing praises to it under a full moon -- but another deeper part of me says, "I hope I'll be able to write something like this someday!" I rarely say that about books, no matter how much I love them, because it is a rather disquieting thing for a writer to say. We writers all strive to be 'different and unique,' but we all know that no idea is fresh. However, an idea can feel fresh if it is spun just right. . .and that was very much true with The Native Star.
While I was reading it, I couldn't help but compare it to favorite books of mine such as Heart's Blood, Howl's Moving Castle, and Brightly Woven -- but it is so much more than comparisons can do justice. This book has fresh and deep world-building a la Robin McKinley, wit and irony worthy of Diana Wynne Jones, and a strong heroine much like those to be found from Juliet Marillier. The story stands on its own two feet, though, with a fresh twist on magic by spinning the world with undertones of historical fiction while also giving it life by being authentic and heartfelt, powerful and wonderful.
I'm a character-centric kind of reader who loves seeing characters grow while relationships build and develop among them. While the plot here was gripping enough with its blend of government and world intrigues and magical obstacles, I stand by my observation that this novel was character-driven above all. Thus, I focused on the characters. . .especially the two main characters who I ended up loving dearly.
Never, never, never in a million years could I have imagined developing such a staggering book crush on a man named Dreadnought Stanton. (The name rather gives the same impression as a name like Severus Snape does, hmm?) He's almost like a delicious mixture of Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice -- as if I need to tell any Goodreader that!) and Howl (from the aforementioned Howl's Moving Castle) with an insufferable attitude that would give the two gents I mentioned a run for their money! Stanton is one of those guys you would like to hit for being arrogant or bossy -- but then, the next moment, you might want to snog him for being unbearably charismatic or unintentionally romantic. So, yes, I was impressed and smitten all at once!
Of course, I can't mention Stanton without mentioning the heroine, Emily. She goes through quite a bit in this novel, and I really liked her strength and boldness. I guess I'm so used to passive young adult heroines that it surprises me now to see a heroine take charge and act! It was very refreshing. (As for her mixture -- she reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Bennet crossed with Jane Eyre. That may sound like a funny combination, but it's true!)
And of course the romance/relationship. . .it is very sigh-inducing and gush-worthy. Though it wasn't a prime focus of the novel, love was a prime undertone from beginning to end.
The story offered me plenty of smiles and even a few laugh out loud moments -- and I even finished the book with a smile. Now that is rare. This book just surprised me in so many ways that I ended up falling in love with it before I had even realized it. Now all I need to prove that the love be true is to have a copy of the sequel, The Hidden Goddess (*hint, hint, hint*), and hope that the continuing story causes my love to grow and grow.
Here's hoping other readers will love it just as much as I did.(less)
Authors like Melina Marchetta leave me in an uncomfortable position. As a reader, I'm overjoyed to read books such as hers since they challenge my min...moreAuthors like Melina Marchetta leave me in an uncomfortable position. As a reader, I'm overjoyed to read books such as hers since they challenge my mind, make me smile and gape alike, and steal away pieces of my heart. As a writer, however, Marchetta's books...intimidate me. Never before have I read work from an author that just keeps getting better and better with each successive novel (and those who have read Marchetta's debut novel, Looking for Alibrandi, know that she has never been even a mediocre writer). I don't know what it is about Marchetta, but it always seems to me as if she is raising the bar higher and higher for herself with each book she writes. It's such an impressive thing that I'm left envious and awed, my writer self and my reader self at war with one another, but one thing is shared between my two halves: the utter respect and admiration for Melina Marchetta as a driving force in young adult literature, whether it be contemporary, fantasy, or any genre she chooses to write.
Froi of the Exiles, the sequel to Marchetta's first fantasy novel Finnikin of the Rock and book two of the Lumatere Chronicles, is quite honestly her finest novel to date. The novel is hefty at just about 600 pages, but the pages fly by as you start to read and immerse yourself in the land of Skuldenore with its various kingdoms vying for power, plotting to conquer, or just struggling to survive.
The wonderful thing about Marchetta's fantasy writing is that she never loses focus on two key things that are necessary to make any fantasy story succeed: high-stakes intrigues to keep readers captivated and a sense of honest humanity to the world and characters, so much so that readers find themselves empathetic to the characters in both the light and dark moments. Marchetta's "good" characters are just as flawed and conflicted as any villains to be found, adding a very realistic shade of gray to anyone and anything in this fantasy story.
No character is more gray than the hero, Froi, first introduced in Finnikin of the Rock as an ex-slave boy who often acted more foe than friend. Though Froi is much reformed when we meet him at the start of this second novel, set three years after the first, there is still a darkness following him, one that he recognizes and fights to keep at bay even as he works for the still-recovering kingdom of Lumatere. But there is something brewing in the kingdom of Charyn, something that may prove deadly for anyone involved with the cursed land...
To say that Froi of the Exiles ups the ante from its predecessor is an understatement: Marchetta is in top form with this novel, the threads of the plot seemingly appearing haphazard or inconsequential at first, only to come back later to play in surprising and astounding ways. Nothing is "meaningless" in this novel; everything has its purpose, whether for plot or character development.
No matter how tightly plotted, however, this novel would have been a failure if not for the characters -- characters who feel so strongly and so deeply that they feel like flesh-and-blood incarnations simply because their emotions are so palpable. The whole cast of characters are what make this novel so different, so human, compared to stale fantasy worlds and archetypes to be found en masse in hundreds of other novels out there. To be honest, this novel made me want to weep not just for the characters...but because of the plot, the words, the utter talent there must be to craft such an amazing story that holds so much depth and soul to it.
This book is a wonderful testament to the fact that truly dedicated and talented authors do not need to be tied by the bounds of genre to create all manner of stories that sing and make readers' hearts ache. For those reasons and more, Froi of the Exiles is definitely the best book I've read in 2011 and one that I would recommend to anyone who wanted a more realistic shade of fantasy.(less)
The check-list to making a great and/or memorable short story: a short story should. . .
-. . .present a well-developed world that mirrors the level of...moreThe check-list to making a great and/or memorable short story: a short story should. . .
-. . .present a well-developed world that mirrors the level of one that could be found in a full-length novel. -. . .have enough mystery, suspense, and/or intrigue that the readers feel the need to keep turning the pages. -. . .show skill and thought for prose and its power to bewitch readers of all kinds. -. . .carry a plot that holds to the level of novelhood - inciting incident, rising action, climax, dénouement, and (depending on the plot/story) closure. -. . .have fleshed-out characters who feel like real people, who act accordingly, and who show emotion and realism without dwelling too heavily into the realms of predictability (for this will often bore readers). -. . .twist what readers expect and give them back something that astounds and amazes them. -. . .end within reasonable fashion because short stories are CALLED short stories because they are MEANT TO BE READ IN ONE SITTING. -. . .allow an open enough ending where the readers actually WONDERS and PONDERS about the world and characters of the short story long after they have finished it.
This is my check-list for a PERFECT SHORT STORY. Now, I know nothing is ever perfect -- but I also know that many authors, even ones with great novels to their names, often EPICALLY FAIL at the short story. There are many elements that must be balanced for a short story to be engrossing, engaging, and downright amazing all at once. Some authors just don't have the patience (or, sadly, the talent) to make their short stories brilliant little gems, pieces of the crowns their novels are. And I find that incredibly sad since short stories are actually a brilliant way to get more people to READ. Many people these days just don't have the patience or the time to sit down with a novel, even a brilliant one that's recommended again and again, but you know what? They may be able to be coaxed with a SHORT STORY. (Ta-da! Aren't I being brilliant today?) And you know what? I think if more people could/would write like Margo Lanagan, then we might have more book readers than television/movie watchers -- and boy does she have the elements for good short stories down pat.
Of course, Lanagan's writing -- though always poetic when it needs to be and harsh when it can't stand to be kind -- isn't perfect. Even though I was ready to give the book five stars immediately after reading the haunting "Singing My Sister Down" (the first story), I eventually found that the anthology was a mixed bag: some stories are just really brilliant, some are funky and quirky, and some are just insensible in their meaning and purpose. ("Wooden Bride" felt that far latter way to me.) Her storytelling sometimes tries so hard to be mysterious that the reader can't get a clear picture in his/her head of what exactly is going on. However -- I as a reader don't always mind being pulled along blindly, so I found this book engrossing and refreshing because Lanagan never gave me quite what I had expected with her short stories. I was glad for that since it gets dull being able to predict a story's outcome! Sometimes it's just fun to be surprised -- whether it be pleasantly or horrifically so.
I know that Lanagan is a controversial writer (especially when it comes to discussions pertaining to her novel Tender Morsels), but this collection of short stories just shows the depth of her talent. She's no one trick pony, that's for certain! There's probably something here in Black Juice for anyone who dared to look inside. So -- are you tempted enough to be one of the few who will? If so, I hope you devour and savor the writing and storytelling: it's worth it.(less)
Well, I took the plunge with this book -- even despite a few misgivings along the way as I thought, "Should I? Shouldn't I?" -- and, once I started re...moreWell, I took the plunge with this book -- even despite a few misgivings along the way as I thought, "Should I? Shouldn't I?" -- and, once I started reading, I couldn't help but think: I can't wait to review this. I can't wait to share the conundrum, the utter quandary of emotions, that is this book.
I will say this to start: this book had all the elements to make it a brilliant read. After all, it contains many things that make for good stories that stick with you: an interesting premise to capture you, beautiful writing to enrapture you, startling emotions and scenes to make you think and ponder, and characters you come to love even despite their flaws. No, I won't say this book was an easy read -- or even a comfortable one at times -- but it was jagged and a bit painful at times. It's a book that you just have to set down for a time because it affects you so, and then you aren't so eager to pick it back up again. But, if you do trudge through it, the brilliance does manage to shine through. The writing is beautiful, poetry on the page, but the story itself is far from pretty.
Now, from just reading the synopsis, you might think that the way to Palimpsest is simply sex -- but, no, it's a bit more complicated than that: the city itself becomes an obsession to any who accidentally come to be within it, and the road to get back to it is somehow always laced with pain. Pain is a given in this book: the four main characters are all broken souls, people who have lost things and people and meaning, so of course they latch onto the one hope they have in their lives. And that hope is Palimpsest.
I'll admit that I'm not a person who likes to read sex scenes -- especially those that are casual and lacking in a bond of love -- but I suppose it was a bit easier for me to read because I understood that the sex was just a means to an end. Most of the sex scenes involve high emotions ranging from desperation to grief to just sheer madness. All of these people are broken, lost souls, and they seek refuge through the city of Palimpsest. Yes, it's irrational to me as an outsider, but I suppose that's the point.
The book started out slow for me; I felt the most answers came towards the last one hundred pages of the story. I felt less frustrated by that time and more engaged in the ordeals of the four main characters, all of whom suffered in their own ways. Yes, by then, I wanted them to succeed.
Catherynne M. Valente created a rich world with Palimpsest -- a land akin to the realm of Fairies, almost -- but Valente's strength in her writing and world-building is also a flaw, however. While she thrives on details and sweet nothings, I sometimes felt lost as a reader -- as if I were an observer who didn't have all the information I needed. Still, though, the book managed to astound me with its sometimes horrific twists that bordered on things found in grim fairy tales of old. It's no wonder since Valente is obviously a fan and student of mythology, lacing her writing with nods to folklore and myth from around the world. Her writing style is something to behold since you do feel as if you are reading something strange and new, almost like a lost fairy tale, and it is both astounding and confounding. It's a bit of a trippy read, true, but it also has meaning and emotion that seem to make all the strange qualities worth it.
Overall -- I am glad I read it. The book gets four stars alone because I loved the writing -- and, by the end, I was satisfied with everything that had come to pass. No, it was not exactly laid out the way I would have done. . .but, then again, I would never have come up with a story about a city that can only be reached through physical intimacy. Ah, well, I still enjoyed it despite its flaws, and I hope others will give it a chance someday too. (less)
Love, the deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't.
But that isn't it, exactly.
The condemner and the conde...moreLove, the deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't.
But that isn't it, exactly.
The condemner and the condemned. The executioner; the blade; the last-minute reprieve; the gasping breath and the rolling sky above you and the thank you, thank you, thank you, God.
Love: It will kill you and save you, both.
I have heard glowing things about Delirium and its author, Lauren Oliver, for months before its release. Oliver's first novel, Before I Fall, was a stand-out novel in 2010, so I had high hopes for Delirium (especially after I had read the lovely, melancholy, and heartbreaking Before I Fall). After all is said and done, though, I can't say this book invoked great feelings in me as I had hoped it would.
When you read a book where love -- the kind of love that can be passionate and angry and crazy, the kind that defies all odds and makes the weak stand strong with hope, the kind that makes people want to die fighting for it -- is a disease. Everyone must have a surgery to have the potential for the disease removed, and the society itself becomes one robbed of compassion, empathy, and passion. Mothers and fathers don't look at their children with protective love blaring in their eyes; husbands and wives share more of a business relationship than one of actual romance or passion. It does sound scary, a world without love or the ability to love and be loved, but I didn't feel the fear I thought I would. I felt disgust and irritation, true, but nothing so world-shaking or mind-numbing.
The story follows Lena, a seventeen-year-old on the verge of graduating high school and having her own 'cure' to rid herself of the possibility of the disease forever. She is a likable character, one that is easy to relate to, but the 'change' she undergoes sometimes felt too easy and simple to me. Shouldn't she have felt even more conflict? Shouldn't she have felt torn in two, caught between the world she had believed in and the world she is just discovering? The change in her seemed like the flip of a light switch: not there one moment, then there the next.
The power of the story itself lies in the love story -- come on, you knew there was one! -- and even that felt lukewarm to me. I get teenage love, seeming so invincible and unquenchable at first, but -- again -- the love story seemed too easy. I like my conflict and angst, but they weren't really present here! I felt as if I were in a boat rolling gently downstream when I had expected the boat to meet crashing waves and swirling whirlpools. Basically, the love story let me down.
That's not to say the story isn't nice -- but it's nothing groundbreaking. Perhaps I've been reading too many dystopians with similar premises. Perhaps I just couldn't shake that the book I was reading reminded me of a mix between Uglies and Matched. Perhaps I shouldn't have read Delirium straight after finishing Before I Fall. Perhaps the premise was one I loved but the execution just didn't win me over.
I will give the novel this: Oliver still has lovely prose at times, very poetic and meaningful. Some of the best portions of the novel were the chapter epigraphs relating propaganda, children's rhymes, and 'banned material' from the actual society within the book. Here's an example of one I loved, mixing prose and horror into a perfect example of the fears and stigmas of this society:
Mama, Mama, help me get home I'm out in the woods, I am out on my own. I found me a werewolf, a nasty old mutt It showed me its teeth and went straight for my gut.
Mama, Mama, help me get home I'm out in the woods, I am out on my own. I was stopped by a vampire, a rotting old wreck It showed me its teeth, and went straight for my neck.
Mama, Mama, put me to bed I won't make it home, I'm already half-dead. I met an Invalid, and fell for his art He showed me his smile, and went straight for my heart.
The nursery rhyme shows what the society fears most of all: love and its power. The problem was that I didn't feel the fear myself, just the aftershocks of what Lena was going through. Thus, it felt rather so-so to me.
Overall, I would recommend this book more to people who like love stories than those who love dystopians. Though I really adore dystopians like The Hunger Games and Unwind, I could never rank this one among them. I will be reading the sequels to find out what happens in the story, though, so I guess that's saying something. Delirium just seems destined to be a book that will make readers feel emotions all over the spectrum.(less)
If someone could take all the pain away from your wounds and scars, would you let him do it even if it mean all the more pain and sorrow on his part?
B...moreIf someone could take all the pain away from your wounds and scars, would you let him do it even if it mean all the more pain and sorrow on his part?
Bruiser by Neal Shusterman (author of the haunting Unwind) asks that question and more. What if an empath, practically a miracle man for how he could take people's ills onto himself, walked the earth? What type of person would he be? What would his struggles be? Would be be forever alone because of his ability, or would he be able to manage a normal life even despite all the potential downfalls to such a startling gift?
Neal Shusterman's answer to all these intriguing questions is a character by the name of Brewster, nicknamed Bruiser by his classmates because of his hulking big-boned form. He was never more than just a blip on lacrosse player Tennyson's mind until the day Tennyson's twin sister, Bronte, announced that she was going on a date with Brewster. Suspecting the worst of Brewster because of his classmates voting him "most likely to die by lethal injection," Tennyson follows Brewster home one day to see just what kind of wrecked family life the Bruiser has to make him such a strange loner. . .
Shusterman took an intriguing approach to writing this story, dividing the book into sections told from the perspectives of Tennyson, Bronte, Brewster, and even Brewster's little brother, Cody. The different sections really made the story seem fuller than it might have if only Tennyson and Bronte had perspectives or if Brewster himself was the only one to have a voice in the story. It was fascinating in an eerie way, kinda like an extended Twilight Zone episode.
Honestly, this book struck similar chords in me that Unwind did. Shusterman is amazing with the way he can take a seemingly implausible story idea and shape it into something that's startlingly real and human because of the way he folds in emotions like fear, helplessness, love, and hopelessness to make something that just batters down on your heart and mind. Ever since finishing Unwind, I had been hesitant to start reading any of Shusterman's other works, but now I think that was a grievous error on my part. It's difficult to write anything that's haunting, but Shusterman has achieved it at least with Unwind and Bruiser.
I hope that Bruiser will find nests in other people's hearts and minds as well.(less)
Note: Be warned that this is one of those reviews that in no way can do justice to the actual novel, but there's no harm in trying. Regardless, I grea...moreNote: Be warned that this is one of those reviews that in no way can do justice to the actual novel, but there's no harm in trying. Regardless, I greatly urge anyone who has even the slightest interest in this book to procure a copy when it's released on September 27, 2011.
Seven Perfect Reasons Why You Should Read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor:
1. The writing is fantastic, dang it.
Now, I loved Laini Taylor's first young adult offering, Lips Touch: Three Times (You've read it, haven't you? HAVEN'T YOU?), but I have to admit that the short story format of it left me craving something. . .more. I mean, it's difficult to find really beautiful writing – the kind that digs its way inside of you and then makes you ache as if it's stolen a bit of your heart – so when you come across such delectable writing you really want to savor it. When I found out that Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a little over 400 pages, I was ecstatic because a longer length meant more wonderful prose from Laini Taylor.
And the writing does not disappoint. Whether Taylor is describing the various eccentricities of Prague (one of the main settings in this novel), the pulse-pounding action of a human girl fighting an angel, or even just the emotions threading through the heroine, Karou, the prose simply blazes in a way that's beautiful, ethereal, and unforgettable.
One of my favorite examples of Taylor's prose comes from this passage (no spoilers):
Karou wished she could be the kind of girl who was complete unto herself, comfortable in solitude, serene. But she wasn't. She was lonely, and she feared the missingness within her as if it might expand and . . . cancel her. She craved a presence beside her, solid. Fingertips light at the nape of her neck and a voice meeting hers in the dark. Someone who would wait with an umbrella to walk her home in the rain, and smile like sunshine when he saw her coming. Who would dance with her on her balcony, keep his promises and know her secrets, and make a tiny world wherever he was, with just her and his arms and his whisper and her trust. (Pg. 71, ARC edition)
Isn't that just lovely? Can't you just feel the longing as if it had been your own?
Such is the power of Laini Taylor's writing – and that's only a small glimpse into what she has in her writing arsenal.
2. Ever feel like you're reading the same old thing over and over again? Well, listen up: this book takes everything you think you know and spins all your assumptions on their heads.
True love. Magic. Supernatural happenings. A heroine who is more than she believes herself to be.
Yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn.
You think you know where all of this is going, don't you?
HOLD ON! Daughter of Smoke and Bone may have all those elements, but I bet you won't be able to guess how they all tie together. You may think it's a "girl meets boy"-type deal with love overshadowing everything, but the story is far more than that. Without giving anything away, it's the way paranormal books should be written – with supernatural enticements, fantastical wonder, and even a bit of grim horror.
Oh, twists and turns too. You can't have a great story without some killer twists and turns – which, you may be happy to know, this novel has in abundance.
3. You think you know angels and demons? Think again.
True to form, Laini Taylor – an obvious lover of lore and mythology from all cultures, given the tales of Lips Touch – offers a fascinating new spin on angels and demons. What if everything you had ever supposed about the divine realm was only a part of a greater truth? What if angels and demons warred for supremacy in a land all their own?
Are you intrigued? You should be because the mythology built in this story is one of the most thorough and imaginative I've ever seen in a young adult novel. I can only imagine what Laini Taylor has in store for the furthering and deepening of this fantastic world she has created.
4. Lovers of fairy tales, myths, and/or legends will find a kindred spirit in this story. The very essence of the story thrives on all kinds of superstitions and beliefs, so of course it's going to appeal to anyone who has an appreciation for all those things that challenge human minds and logic.
5. Karou is a kick-arse heroine. In a nutshell: she's not afraid to do what has to be done.
6. You know that feeling of never wanting a book to end? Well, expect to feel it here. You will start to dread, dread, dread as you near the end of the book because you just know that you'll want the next book as soon as you finish.
7. Hope. What can I say? It's the crux of the novel.(less)
Well. It's been a long time coming, reading all of Melina Marchetta's available novels (the others being Saving Francesca, Jellicoe Road, and Finnikin...moreWell. It's been a long time coming, reading all of Melina Marchetta's available novels (the others being Saving Francesca, Jellicoe Road, and Finnikin of the Rock to all you [as of yet] non-Marchetta fans). . .but I did it. Now, I can't help but wonder: what am I going to do in the meantime until the release of her next novel? Marchetta is EXACTLY that kind of author to make you feel that way.
First confession: I would likely never have given this author a chance if I hadn't so adored her first fantasy novel, Finnikin, last year. Even after reading that wonderful oh-my-goodness-it's-so-good book, I was hesitant to try her contemporary novels even though so many Goodreaders harped about all of Marchetta's books. I guess I doubted an author could keep amazing me, keep challenging me, keep invoking so many deep thoughts and emotions inside of me. I should never have doubted: Marchetta is a master when it comes to giving readers what they least expect but what they will think about the most. (I hold to the truth that the blurbs for Marchetta's books never do the stories inside justice. For instance, you would have thought Saving Francesca was a delightful romp about girls and boys clashing at a once all boys' school. While that is part of the foundation of the novel, it's definitely not the heart of it.)
Second confession: Marchetta's books have an uncanny way of making me feel choked up and/or making me cry. That held true with this novel too.
Third confession: Melina Marchetta is the type of writer and author I want to be someday. The emotions her characters have and show are so powerful yet subtle, the perfect examples of showing but not telling, and her stories somehow manage to be deep without being melodramatic, angsty, and/or cheesy. Her contemporary books could read like those cliche-ridden made-for-TV movies. . .but they're always so much more.
Looking for Alibrandi is no different. Being Marchetta's debut novel (first published all the way back in 1992!), it rings true with the staples of her eventual contemporary novels: a main character trying to find her niche, conflicts from outside influences (usually involving family and/or friends) that give the MC an opportunity to learn and understand, often uneasy romantic relationships where like wars with dislike, startling realizations that spin whatever truth the MC thought she knew, and eventual growth-inciting resolutions towards the end of the book. But it's never pretty or easy or perfect: it's life in all its shades and colors. Marchetta isn't one for the 'And they all lived happily ever after'-type endings. No, that isn't true to life and it isn't fair to readers to throw that kind of unrealistic ending in their faces. Instead, Marchetta gives us these things: doubt coupled with hope, uncertainty paired with determination, grimaces followed by bright smiles. Yes, there are good times, but there are bad times too. In Marchetta's books, there's always a story with brightness and darkness.
I also love how Marchetta's characters are never perfect. Sure, they have their ideal moments, but they have their terrible moments too. People are not what you make of them but what they allow you to see of themselves. You only get so much truth out of them as they are willing to give you. The rest you have to leave up to a leap of faith on your part. If you believe in them and listen to them, then maybe they will let you seep inside to gain a little of their truth. Looking for Alibrandi, beyond its base theme of family and racial/cultural issues, is a story where honesty and deception try to beat each other out. What is better: the difficult truth or the kind lie? Which would make you more fulfilled? Which could you survive?
All in all, I was very happy with Looking for Alibrandi (even though a part of me would love a sequel even almost twenty years later!), and I'm amazed by how stellar it is for a debut novel. Now, do I think more people should read this and Marchetta's other books? YES! PLEASE DO! They all start out slow and steady, but the stories eventually crescendo into beautiful yet heartbreaking sonatas that will never again leave you. Honestly, though, I would give this advice: come back to Looking for Alibrandi after you've tasted Marchetta's storytelling through another book. You'll appreciate this book far more, I can guarantee it. (less)
He hears her voice and swings around quickly, alarm on his face. Fear. Terror. Such despair. She knows that feeling too. Of believing that each...more"Tom?"
He hears her voice and swings around quickly, alarm on his face. Fear. Terror. Such despair. She knows that feeling too. Of believing that each time someone says her name, it's to tell her that something bad has happened.
I could have given you any number of quotes that struck home with me while I was reading Melina Marchetta's fifth novel, The Piper's Son (a pseudo-sequel to her second novel, Saving Francesca), but I chose the one above. Why? Well. . .I understand it. And have felt it far too often in my twenty years on this earth. Every year has chiseled me out so much that I tend to think, "Okay, the waters are still right now -- but when's the next tidal wave coming? I just know it's out there." And I can't relax because I get restless and angry with myself for thinking the way I do. But I can't seem to fight it since I just hide and lose myself in mundane life, not truly living because I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop, the dung to hit the fan and splatter all over me. It's not a healthy way to live (especially since we can never see the tidal waves until they're right upon us and it's useless to make ourselves sick with worry over things we can't control).
Thus, I can understand the Thomas Mackee who exists for much of this novel far too well. While other readers might become irritated with him, I empathized with him on his road of grief. He's wanting, longing, searching, but he won't admit all of those things even to himself most days. He's a lost soul who's pretending he's not lost, present in body even though his spirit's just not there. The only parts of him that he allows anybody to see are the poisonous, bitter bits that strike out and wound without any thought.
Then there are the rest of his family, still lost in their own forms of grief and pain and suffering. Georgie Finch, Tom's aunt, is pregnant from a lover who hurt her deeply in the past even as she still struggles with the loss of her younger brother. Dominic, Tom's alcoholic father, is MIA as his family is slowly breaking apart. Everybody in this book has issues, loads of them, but Melina Marchetta doesn't make it feel melodramatic: she makes it feel so real, so heartbreakingly real.
Then there are the rest of the Saving Francesca cast -- Francesca, Justine, Will, Tara, and Jimmy -- but the gang's split up, fragmented across continents, physical and emotional distances straining their relationships with each other. Marchetta gives each character his or her own spotlight (almost making me wonder if -- miracle of miracles -- we may someday have a plethora of Francesca-based sequels/companions on our shelves) to the point where you as a reader just know that Marchetta knows these characters as closely and intimately as if they were beloved family members. She treats them as such, lovingly but sometimes harshly (we're all harsh with the ones we love, yeah?), and you love the characters even despite their choices, their mistakes, their undeniable flaws. They become your family, your burden, but you don't care since you just want to see them be all right, living and thriving and enjoying every minute there is of life. That is the kind of novel this is, so don't come looking for a joy ride. It is a ride, for sure, but it is not so happy-go-lucky even though it does have its wonderful giggle-inducing moments.
If my words do not sway you to read this novel, then just read any five-star review of this book. There are others who have articulated their feelings about this book much better than I ever could. My advice? Just read all of Melina Marchetta's novels. Seriously. They are the creme de la creme of young adult literature with stories that pack a punch and characters that move and speak as if they were flesh and blood beings inhabiting our world. They are amazing pieces of storytelling to devour, and The Piper's Son is no exception.
Read it. Love it. Savor it. Enjoy it.
(Also, a quick note: I find it disgraceful that I could not track this book down in any of my local bookstores. Not even one copy. I scanned the shelves on March 8th and onward until I finally relented and ordered a copy through Amazon a week ago. I thought Marchetta was making a name for herself in the United States, but I suppose bookstores are all still so blinded by vampires, werewolves, fallen angels, and the like that many of them aren't even bothering to order and stock the non-paranormal or non-hype YA books. It's a shame, it really is.)(less)
Melina Marchetta, most well-known for her Printz award-winning novel Jellicoe Road, somehow knows how...moreWords cannot express how much I loved this book.
Melina Marchetta, most well-known for her Printz award-winning novel Jellicoe Road, somehow knows how to balance all the elements -- whether humorous, dramatic, or simply heartfelt -- in her novels and just make everything seem so right, so effortless, so powerful.
I started reading this book mainly because I couldn't sleep -- and then I found that I could not put it down. It seemed such an injustice to leave the book half-read for any amount of time. So, of course, I sped through it and enjoyed myself immensely. What I thought would be a tale of boys versus girls was something unique yet familiar: a tale of friendship, love, family, grief, loss, loneliness, and identity. I was amused, enthused, engrossed, twisted and turned. . .and I didn't mind one bit!
The characters were stupendous. Francesca was a sharp-witted heroine who still had her doubts, reservations, and insecurities. And the other characters of St. Sebastian's -- well, I honestly loved them all. You have outspoken Tara, reserved Justine, saucy Siobhan, blunt and crude Thomas, talkative yet insightful Jimmy, appealing yet frustrating Will. . .yes, this book had great characters that I simply adored.
The story got to me since it made me think of high school and reminded me how I had my Francesca moments of striving so much to blend in and 'fit' that I lost sight of myself. I look back on my four years and think, "Did I miss out on some great friendships because I was too timid and afraid to let myself be drawn in by simple things like a common interest, a shared joke, or just a smile from across the room?" I can't know for certain -- but I'd definitely end up feeling regret if I knew I had missed out on friends like the ones Francesca ends up having.
Like the best stories, this one ends on a note of hope. . .and it made me very glad.
Need I even conclude with how wholeheartedly I recommend this book? (less)
***WARNING: THIS IS NOT A CONVENTIONAL REVIEW, AND THERE MAY BE SPOILERS***
Dear Gemma and Ty,
I have just finished reading your story -- yes, I do con...more***WARNING: THIS IS NOT A CONVENTIONAL REVIEW, AND THERE MAY BE SPOILERS***
Dear Gemma and Ty,
I have just finished reading your story -- yes, I do consider it a story about the both of you -- and I'm still wondering how I should react. Should I feel relief for what happened? Should I feel sadness for what was lost? Should I feel something like restlessness in my own soul as I wonder what awaits you two? Or should I feel a mixture of all three? I don't know what to feel.
Gemma -- I thought you were braver than another girl in your situation might have been. You were gutsy. You took chances. Even when the risks didn't pan out, you still tried -- and you survived. You didn't just accept your situation, and you kept fighting until it brought you very near to death. Then you found yourself drawn in spite of yourself when it began to dawn on you that maybe you weren't going to be "done away with" after all. I don't know if what you felt was love for Ty. . .but it was something. That feeling may never outweigh the feeling of hatred and violation -- but at least it was a light in the darkness.
Ty -- I think, had you been given the right people to take care of you and had the world not warped you in some ways, you would have been a real winner, a boy any girl would want and would have been lucky to have. Yes, you may have all the traits that make you appealing and attractive. . .but you still made so many wrong choices along the way. Just think: if you had approached Gemma any other way. . .ANY OTHER WAY. . .you might not have needed to steal her away to get her to stay with you. That's the greatest violation of all: you stole her choices, her options, and gave her something she couldn't even know that she wanted. What if you had stolen her heart first and then let everything come naturally afterward? It could have happened. It really could have. It makes me sad to think that you had all the possibilities before you -- but now all of them are left to ashes. However, despite everything -- I don't think you're insane. Eccentric and odd, perhaps, but not insane.
Gemma and Ty -- I know your situation was not the norm. Kidnappers never feel such profound love or responsibility for the people they abduct -- or at least, in my world, they don't. In my world, Ty, you would have been most likely a rapist and potentially a murderer. Gemma, you were done wrong -- but I know it could have been so much worse.
I fell in love with you two characters, I really did. Even though I know your story is over -- at least in book format -- I have hope for you two. I want to believe that you'll rise above the mistakes you have made, Ty. I want to believe that you'll overcome the doubt and confusion in your mind and heart, Gemma. I want to believe that you two will be all right. You two, at least, have the potential for happy endings even after tragedies.
So many others don't.
In the end -- I know that I feel one thing: compassion towards you both. I wish you the best, and your story will definitely stay with me for a long time to come.(less)
I felt all those emotions while reading this book -- and, even though the story twisted and turned so ver...moreLove. Disgust. Conflict. Despair. Indecision.
I felt all those emotions while reading this book -- and, even though the story twisted and turned so very much that it was a bit frustrating, I have no doubt of one thing: Madapple was utterly haunting.
The main character of a novel can tell you a lot about its story and what you can hope to expect. Aslaug, the teenage heroine of Madapple, is a bit of a quandary just like the novel itself: she can best be described as Knowledge without Experience, having read numerous books and learned various languages under the strict guidance of her strange hermit-like, plant-obsessed mother Maren, without venturing much beyond the small world of her house. Aslaug is a dutiful daughter even though her mother's moods are as changing as the winds. When sudden events turn Aslaug's life on its head, however, she finds herself in mystifying circumstances that get stranger and stranger as the book progresses. . .
This book snagged me from the start since I adored how it at first seemed almost a modern-day fairy tale -- the Grimm Brothers kind, not the Disney kind -- and Aslaug seemed more like a victim of circumstances and others' actions than a deranged, homicidal girl. (The truth behind her, however, is one you slowly have to realize throughout the book.) The plant lore, while not wholly interesting or fascinating to me at first, fit into the story and actually became rather intriguing as the story progressed. Also added into the mix were many mentions of various mythologies and religious beliefs throughout the world (none of which are presented in a preachy respect -- but more like a commentary style), which gave the plot more depth than a simple mystery and suspense novel. What really made me love this book, though -- beyond the twisty-turny plot -- was the writing style that read more like an adult novel than a young adult novel. Very refreshing! Basically -- I was very impressed by this entire book (especially when I hated it only to come back and love it a few minutes later; that's a mark of masterful storytelling right there).
As much as I was taken by the book, I won't lie: the story isn't for everyone. It might take a while to get into the book itself, and even then the tale has its moments of being unlikable and quite despicable. The issues and conflicts here might make many readers uncomfortable or uneasy. Some people may become bored or frustrated by it, put it down, and then never pick it back up again. In my opinion, they would be missing out on a very engrossing tale about truth and deceit, illusion and reality, love and hate. What is real? What is not? Can a life become so convoluted that even truth seems fantasy or vice-versa?
I've come to realize there's a world of difference between knowing something happened, even knowing why it happened, and believing it. Because when sh...moreI've come to realize there's a world of difference between knowing something happened, even knowing why it happened, and believing it. Because when she cut off contact, yeah, I knew what had happened. But it took me a long, long time to believe it.
Some days, I still don't quite believe it.
Forgive me. Maybe I've just been having too many "tugging at my heartstrings as if the book is trying to tear my heart out"-type reads recently, but this book never failed to make me sigh, tear up, smile, laugh, or just break down with some gushing tears. (Rest assured, though, that none of these things ever happened in tandem while I was reading. I may have my crazy days, but I'm not that crazy at least not yet.)
I read Gayle Forman's If I Stay in May 2010 (my original review is here), and I was surprised to be so deeply moved by the story of Mia Hall as she decides whether 'to stay or to go' after a devastating accident leaves her family torn apart. When I heard that there was going to be a follow-up to Mia's story from her boyfriend Adam's viewpoint, well, I was ecstatic. I even worried and vaguely wondered for a time if Adam would be the one in peril in Where She Went. . .and, truthfully, he is -- just in a different way than I had thought. It turns out that Mia's journey left consequences and sorrows aplenty on Adam's doorstep.
Three years have passed since If I Stay. Adam and Mia are no longer a couple, but each of them has become successful in their own rights with Adam ready to go on his second tour with his band and Mia gearing up to begin her own journeys abroad with her cello. But is this their permanent ending?
To say that Adam is lost, numb, and grieving throughout most of this novel is an understatement. The boy who was such a star in If I Stay has lost some of his luster here, and it has given him even an even grittier emo edge for his 'rock star' persona to give fodder to the tabloids. Seemingly gone is the boy who seemed so good and so right. But he's still there; he's just buried by all the hurt and pain.
I won't go into spoiler territory for those who still have yet to read the novel, but I have to admit that this story wormed into my heart even more than the original did. Truth be told, I had always loved Adam as a character, and I knew he likely had a story worth telling that was separate from Mia's (yet somehow joined at the core). As much as Where She Went gives some more resolution and closure to Mia's journey, it also helps to give Adam his own resolution and closure. It is a fitting novel for one of the best male characters to grace YA in recent years.
I have to say that Gayle Forman succeeds not because what she writes is so hard-hitting (even though it often is) but because the way she writes invites almost all readers to relate in some way to the story at hand. Whether you have lost a loved one or have grieved over the lost potential of a great relationship that could have lasted for a lifetime, she somehow draws those emotions out of you with her writing and makes you feel right on the same chord with the characters. Not every author has that gift to make the story have a emotionally universal relatability, but Forman does. Oh, yes, she does. (view spoiler)[The scene that got to me most was this one where Mia is talking to Adam: "You know, I thought about that a lot these last couple of years," she says in a choked voice. "About who was there for you. Who held your hand while you grieved for all that you'd lost?" The waterworks just flooded once I read those words because I thought, "The world needs more of this kind of empathy. It really does." (hide spoiler)]
I will end by saying that yes, I think you should read this book (preferably reading both novels back to back for maximum impact). You may laugh, you may cry, or you may sigh -- but I highly doubt you will regret reading this wonderfully thoughtful novel about loss, love, and forgiveness.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)