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 exquisitSarah 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?)...more
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! SupernaturalSugar 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....more
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-orieConfession: 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....more
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....more
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 scrThe 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....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 m(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....more
I turn around now, and see them laughing, but unlike Beethoven, I could already hear them. I always knew they were there. Be(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....more
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 revieNote: 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....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 enti(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....more
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 minAuthors 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....more
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 greaNote: 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....more
Melina Marchetta, most well-known for her Printz award-winning novel Jellicoe Road, somehow knows howWords 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? ...more