The steampunk genre snagged my interest when I realized it can pass as some kind of a magical blend between the past and the future. I really get a kiThe steampunk genre snagged my interest when I realized it can pass as some kind of a magical blend between the past and the future. I really get a kick out of tales about Victorian retro-futurism. But to tell you the truth, I haven’t read tons of books in the genre, so the image I can concoct in my head is pretty run-of-the-mill: a world that basks perpetually on vintage vogue, mixed with loads of gears, clockworks, and cogwheels of steam-powered gadgetries. My latest exposure to steampunk is Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. I haven’t picked up the last book yet but it was good—too good that it made me want to pick up more works from the genre.
Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories is what I chose to satiate this lit-hunger. I didn’t expect much since I know that collections are always a mixed bag, but I’d say I really enjoyed this. The 14 tales here—written by a gamut of talented sci-fi authors—range from raunchy to majestic, from commonplace to dreamlike, and from droll to poignant. There are duds as expected, but there are a bunch that is nothing short of amazing, containing stories that continue to haunt me up to now (in a good way).
Libba Bray’s “The Last Ride of the Glory Girls” tops my list. The tale takes place in some Old Western town where a gang of girl robbers raids trains with the help of a time-freezing gun. Bray’s style made the whole story pop out of the pages; each phrase seemed to create an extra layer of atmosphere, and the narrator’s thick country accent made me feel as if a true-blue daughter of a wild-west colony is really relaying the story to me. Also hard to ignore are the glimpses about religious fanaticism there. If the whole thing doesn’t summon a busload of questions about beliefs, decisions, and life as a whole in the readers’ minds, I don’t know what does.
Cory Doctorow’s “Clockwork Fagin” also left a deep dent in my memory. It’s a Dickensian account about decapitated orphans and how they snatch authority from their ruthless benefactor. For some weird reason, I think the story has a very Burton-esque feel to it, in a Sweeney Todd kind of way. It has a lasting grimness, occasional morbid humor, and overall filthiness that are enmeshed together by good writing. When I reached the last page of the tale, I sort of wish that Doctorow expands it into something longer. I will definitely check out more of his works.
“Steam Girl” by Dylan Horrocks is also pretty memorable. It’s about a girl who may or may not be an inhabitant of another planet, churning out out-of-this-world stories (no pun intended) to her misfit friend. Aside from her quirky gadgets, she has this Reality Gun that stuns everyone when she pulls it out. The beauty is that the reader may feel like he’s taken a bullet from this incredible weapon—you would be left guessing which events are real and which are not.
Other stories that I loved include Christopher Rowe’s “Nowhere Fast,” a post-apocalyptic account where America has run out of oil; Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “Hand in Glove,” a quasi-detective story centering on a petulant femme constable and a rogue killing hand; “Seven Days Beset by Demons” by Shawn Cheng, a comic strip-style tale where a man commits all seven deadly sins when he falls in love; Cassandra Clare’s “Some Fortunate Future Day,” where it is shown that innocence can instantly be transformed into something beastly by mere infatuation; and Garth Nix’s “Peace in Our Time,” a dystopian anecdote of revenge by a representative of an almost extinct race.
The others are unfortunately forgettable. Some of them don’t even appear to have a touch of steampunk (as I know it) in them. Be that as it may, I really had a ball reading this anthology, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I started getting thirsty for more steampunk. I’m giving this book 3.5 stars. :)...more
Many pop literature junkies are getting more vocal about giving up on the stories churned out by most of today’s YA authors. And no wonder—if you've nMany pop literature junkies are getting more vocal about giving up on the stories churned out by most of today’s YA authors. And no wonder—if you've noticed how ‘bestseller ideas’ are being downcycled again and again to populate the genre's shelves, you may even agree with them when they huff, "Oh well, can’t blame the writers; kitsch sells.”
Fortunately, novels like Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road emerge to reassure us that the Young Adult section isn’t in any way heading for an aesthetic holocaust. It’s the kind of book that stands stark against its slew of peers; it’s the kind of book that says, “Just dig in, there’s still a multitude of us here.”
Jellicoe Road follows the story of Taylor Markham, who was abandoned by her mother on the Jellicoe Road when she was eleven. She hasn’t moved on about it six years later, but she tries to swim with life as it surges forward. She takes over their school’s Underground Community in their annual territory against the Townies and Cadets. But Lady Luck has a way of tethering Taylor to the past. Taylor finds out that Jonah Griggs, the boy who betrayed her when she ran away to find her mother three years ago, is the current Cadet leader. Problems and internal issues heap up when her guardian Hannah goes missing, leaving only a story about five kids that Taylor feels a strange connection to. Taylor acknowledges then that only when she is able to properly arrange her past’s puzzle pieces would she only find the key to her present and future.
Honestly, I don’t think there’s any summary that can do justice to Jellicoe Road’s real magic. If anything, the book itself refuses to be boxed by its own blurbs and nondescript excerpts. Marchetta’s storytelling talent is evident in the fact that even if the book is built on the same foundations of a hackneyed YA novel, it manages to morph into something so tastefully refreshing and intricately beautiful. It veers off the kitsch high way, if you get my drift. Marchetta’s prose flaunts an even blend of insightful and crude. It gets deep and lyrical during Taylor’s introspections; it gets laugh-out-loud funny in the punchy, profanity-peppered dialogues between the main characters. In both sides, Marchetta showcases a kind of writing style that I can only describe as a breath of fresh air from the heaps of YA lit that I’ve previously devoured. Add to that a certain edge that gives off a vibe of magical realism, and I can totally say the book is nothing short of unforgettable.
Onto one of its distinguishing points: Jellicoe Road contains a story within a story. As I’ve heard, the first hundred pages made most readers mistake the book for mind-screw galore, discouraging them to leaf through the next three hundred pages. It’s understandable because the two parts read like very different entities. But as the plot charges along, Marchetta drops clues that glue both stories, filling in the gaps little by little until the two meshed together to form an intricate masterwork. The mystery is not so hard to crack, though. The wham! lines would elicit an “About time you figure it out, Taylor!” instead of an “I didn’t see that coming!” from the thinking audience. Be that as it may, the emphasis given on the anticipation factor was excellent.
Taylor as a character doesn’t stray so much from her antiheroine peers: she’s angst-on-two legs, carries an emotional baggage heavier than herself, snarky, unapologetically selfish, and has lots of trust issues. But akin to all the characters I’ve loved in literature, it isn’t about how unlikable Taylor seems to be—it’s all about how she emerges as a well fleshed-out person from the pages. Her humanness shines the brightest when she tries to be tough but grudgingly acknowledges that she needs other people to hold on to.
Standing alongside her is a ragtag bunch of other memorable characters: Aboriginal Townie leader Chaz Santangelo, the amiable ex-Townie Raffaela, the self-deprecatory muso Ben, and the damaged and stoic Cadet Jonah Griggs. This group as well as the other in the accompanying story are caught up in complicated relationship polygons—enemies, friends, friends-but-not-quite, lovers-that-aren’t—that somehow contributed to their dimensionalities.
Reading about their petty territory disputes was somewhat fascinating, though it made me extra-afraid of the actual territory wars our country is engaged in with Sabah and China. In the book, violence is the punishment for whoever trespasses into enemy terrain. That’s just black eyes and broken bones, but it’s violence just the same. Imagine this system blown up as the people involved fight over international lands. Death tolls, negotiations, pleas? Our newspapers carried headlines about those for weeks.
Anyway (sorry for digressing), since we’re already talking about boundaries and places, I commend Marchetta for her first-class world-building. The weight of the realm she created is as palpable as the lives of the people who inhabit it.
As a whole, I can say that Jellicoe Road is one of those books that deserve an improper fraction—I’d totally give it 6 out of 5 stars if I could! Hands down, this is definitely one of the best books I’ve read....more
3.7 Stars (again, I wish Goodreads allow half-stars or something)
Once upon a time, a teenage girl died in a car crash.
The End? Not quite. It’s just th3.7 Stars (again, I wish Goodreads allow half-stars or something)
Once upon a time, a teenage girl died in a car crash.
The End? Not quite. It’s just the beginning of a story that may actually have a happy-ever-after—an unconventional one, especially in the first place it is not a fairytale at all.
Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fall, follows the story of popular high school girl Samantha Kingston. More specifically, it revolves around the very day that Sam died, which she is “doomed” to repeat in some kind of a time loop until she figures out how to escape it. For seven times the same day is told, but with Oliver’s soul-crushingly beautiful writing, the formulaic albeit well-orchestrated plot comes off as refreshing. As you read along, you will not feel as if the six days are just echoes of the first one.
YA books with first person points of view are not my cup of tea, but there are a few that I liked unreservedly. Before I Fall is now one of them. Sam’s voice is surprisingly good; I find myself drawn to her story just a few pages after the prologue. Given her quandary, I find her medley of reactions and ruminations about the same things on the same day utterly realistic. Needless to say, her characterization is superb. Her transformation throughout the book is akin to watching a butterfly as it wriggles out of its chrysalis—the readers journey with her as she attempts to rectify the mistakes that she regrets to have committed, as she peels the superficial layers of herself and of her friends, and as she opens her eyes to appreciate everything that she has taken for granted when she is still alive. She grows and learns that life never fails to teach her something new (even if she is technically dead). I commend the ace character development.
Over the sevenfold loop, Oliver didn’t forget to give the readers a kaleidoscopic glimpse on the lives of the other characters. She made it a point to not let any character be considered just black or white—everybody has shades of gray, just like in real life. There are a lot of teen books that deal with cliques, drugs, booze, and parties, but I think this book pretty much set the bar when it comes to honest portrayal of a typical high school life. The prose even has a journalistic quality to it, in a sense that Oliver didn’t bother on putting too much sugarcoating or melodrama to make it more appealing. A clear reflection is enough.
The pattern for day 1 is used loosely throughout the book, but the story never comes off as lackluster. The pacing makes for a thrilling read, and both the minor and major epiphanies will hold your attention and evoke several emotions. Anyone who likes romance will get a treat, too, but I think you should watch out for the ever-complicated relationships between friends. All kinds of friendships have their own versions of complexities, and Oliver managed to execute that very well.
Humans are hoarders by design. We nestle every memory in our heart’s deepest cove, we stock lessons in our mind’s safest banks, and we keep piles of sHumans are hoarders by design. We nestle every memory in our heart’s deepest cove, we stock lessons in our mind’s safest banks, and we keep piles of skeletons in our most secured closets. When it comes to these dark little secrets, we only let brief episodes of embarrassment follow the accidental tumbling of bone bits. But when we’re talking about the ones that are decaying beyond recognition, we do our best to keep them at the very back—no bone, no tendon jutting out. For all we know, they belong in the dark.
A Monster Calls’ Connor O’Malley has one such skeleton. He tries to keep it concealed while dealing with a hurricane of unfortunate events: his divorced mother is dying of cancer, his relationship with his grandmother is getting out of hand, his classmates are bullying him, and his father is living with the new wife. Because of this, Connor becomes angry, desperate, and too world-weary for someone so young. He doesn’t have any form of shield when his qualms attack him.
And you know what they say: we create our own monsters when we let our worst fears clobber us. The “monster” comes for Connor in the form of the yew tree in their backyard. He stays unafraid however, as he has seen worse things, like the “falling” nightmares that haunt him often. But the Monster seems to know what Connor keeps inside himself. It brings three profound stories and says that by the end of the third tale, Connor must tell a fourth, which should be “the truth.” Would Connor be ready to verbalize it? Would he have the guts to kick the closet door open and let the raw reality out? Would he be able to finally let himself—and anyone shackled by this truth—free by uttering the taboo words he so wanted to let out?
Patrick Ness is a name omnipresent in every YA shelf that I check. From all the accolades I heard are festooning his works, I expected him to be a force to be reckoned with. And indeed he is. A Monster Calls, the first from his oeuvre that I picked up, is the kind of literature that speaks of the harshest realities without appearing to be a tome of cruel pessimism. It’s a children’s book that’s so grownup that adults are guaranteed to get a bulky amount of substantial inspiration from it; it’s an adult book that has a heart of a true kid, making it accessible to both the young once and the young ones. It’s honest and raw in a way that doesn’t damage the soul. It refuses to be put under one label or genre; it’s a work of art that just is. A Monster Calls is many things, really. It amazes me how so much truth about human nature can be condensed in such a thin novel.
Ness developed the book from the original idea of Siobhan Dowd, an English author who died of breast cancer before she could write the whole story. Sometimes I wonder if it would have the same effect on me had Dowd wrote it, but in the end I knew that it was both Ness and Dowd that I read. Clutching that knowledge to my heart has somehow magnified the novel’s power on me, I guess. Dowd had everything from a detailed premise to plot points to characters. What she lacked was time, and Ness made himself an instrument to fill that in.
Teeming with well-developed characters and studded with life lessons we should imbibe to the last drop, A Monster Calls is one of those books that don’t need thorough analysis. It bares its treasures for everyone to see the moment you get past its flyleaf.
The VIP pass comes in the form a 384-page noir fairytale called The Night Circus, and it spilled from the pen-point of literary Ringmistr(4.5/5 stars)
The VIP pass comes in the form a 384-page noir fairytale called The Night Circus, and it spilled from the pen-point of literary Ringmistress Erin Morgenstern.
Flipping the pages was very much like stepping firsthand into the striped tents of the nocturnal Le Cirque des Rêves, or the Circus of Dreams. The vibrant carnival scenes most of us are familiar with—full of colorful clowns, confetti, and confections—are diluted into a non-chromatic world of wonders. Caramel and chocolate scents will waft to greet you at the gates. Once you surrender yourself in the swirl of black and white, you can float and leap dreamily in a vertical labyrinth of clouds, visit a menagerie of breathing paper animals, or marvel at a garden magically carved from unthawing ice. Every tent contains a treat like no other.
Fueling this feast for the senses is a pair of two young magicians—Celia and Marco—who are bound to a dangerous duel of skill and endurance where there can only be one victor. With the circus as the game board, everyone who performs with the two are unwittingly swept into the ever-perilous match…which is pushed a notch higher the danger ladder when the competitors tumble headfirst into a star-crossed love.
Almost dizzying in its beauty, I’d be lying if I say The Night Circus did not take my breath away. Morgenstern’s prose, which is festooned with rich imagery, makes every sentence a joy to read. You’ll think that something portrayed in monochrome will not come out alive, but the author’s obvious love for a sweet concoction of words inflated the atmosphere and the setting. I simultaneously commend and envy her imagination! The way she unfolds every magic is almost cinematic, the kind you think will be produced if Neil Gaiman will collaborate with Tim Burton in a carnival flick. I liked how Morgenstern shifted between third person and second person point of view. The transmission is not exactly seamless, but being given a personal portion of the book made me feel like a legit rêveur.
The book is far from perfect, though; in fact, I think this is one of the few books with copious flaws that I am willing to overlook just so I can squeeze it in my “favorites” shelf. Special effects aside (which occupies a sizable chunk of this book), the plot comes out a tad fragile and formulaic. The world of literature is no stranger to sorcerers’ matches after all, and the forbidden romance angle is quite predictable. I initially did not even care about the characters—Celia and Marco felt like cardboard cutouts to me most of the time, though they did kind of struck a chord with me on the latter part of the novel.
Neither driven by plot nor by character, The Night Circus deviates from my usual favorites, yet somehow, I know I loved it. The reason for this I found near the end: it’s the charm of ordinary love between two people who grew up not knowing what real love is, and the way it blooms amidst the extraordinary nest of their competition. If Morgenstern delved more deeply into the emotional aspect of the novel early on, I think I’d love it right away.
Over all I still think it’s a magnificent novel…in a “guilty pleasure” kind of way, if you know what I mean. Shrouded with enigma and magic, a bit lumpy with blemishes but generally intelligent, The Night Circus already classified itself as one of the most remarkable novels of 2012 for me. ...more