Thursday, August 29, 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone ~ Laini Taylor

I've been hearing about Daughter of Smoke and Bone for a while now, mentions which are usually accompanied by glowing reviews.  Whenever this happened, I would go read a summary and wonder what the heck the reviewer was talking about because it sounded pretty terrible.  Finally, after the billionth time this happened, I gave in.  I was closing my Audible accounts and had some credits to use up, so why not, right?  And you know what?  Turns out all those crazy reviewers were on to something.

So now that I've declared that all the summaries I've read of this book are wanting, I get the dreaded task of attempting to summarize it for you.  Eek.  Here goes: Karou is a snarky, blue-haired teenager living in Prague.  She studies art by day, collects teeth by night, and carries a sketchbook wherever she goes.  In its pages are images of the strange and the fantastic, creatures who are a blend of human and animal, and the strange lives they live.  However, these oddities are not creatures of Karou's imagination, but the people of her other life.  They are not her family by blood - she does not know who or where she came from - but they are her family by love.  In their strangeness, she sees beauty and belonging, not the monsters that an angel by the name of Akiva claims them to be.  Karou and Akiva meet in a violent turmoil, but come to find more in one another than an enemy.  In Akiva, Karou finds answers to the past that has been lost to her.

How was that?  Somewhat interesting, I hope?  It's certainly better than the tripe on Goodreads, which pretty much just shouts "it's weird and cool, guys!" in the general direction of teenagers.  Which is part of what's great about this book - while it is YA fiction, it does not in any way talk down to its reader.  Details are not over explained, the author is not afraid to use big words, and girls are unapologetically feisty and manage to have romantic and sexual relationships without being dominated by them.  Plus, they have sex and it's neither perfection nor something to avoid at all costs because duh, mistakes nor something they don't understand.  Sex can be nice and it can be bad and it can mess with your emotions.  It's not simple, and this is shown not told.  Kudos to Laini Taylor on treating teenagers like people and not just feeding them bullshit.

What grabbed me from the beginning of the book was Karou's observation that, despite her strange life, she never has to conceal it - with a wry smile, she can tell the truth and never be believed, which saves her the trouble of keeping track of lies.  This is so clever and pretty insightful and I was like whoa.  In addition to that detail, I just wanted to be friends with her and Zusana because they're witty and snarky and basically my people.

This story has depth.  There are layers to people and to events and situations.  The other-world war that Karous learns about is an incredibly complex thing, with fault on both sides, that rises above your typical good/bad dichotomy.  And it's tie-in to Christianity - with mentions of angels and devils, and humanity's tendency to get glimpses of the truth and fill in the rest - furthers that complication (that and the sex talk has probably gotten this book banned in places but whatever).

My only complaint is that towards the end of the book, the book loses its balance.  Karou's past is finally revealed to her, and suddenly there are giant chunks of flashback that are not only excessively long, but lose the momentum of the main story.  It's a little far along for that much backstory and it's delivered a little heavy-handedly.  At the same time, the twists that are revealed are both unexpected and totally believable.  Taylor does a great job of setting up the story so that these surprises make sense but aren't obvious or tiresome, which is an absolute relief after the last book I read.

I will definitely be reading this next book in this series once I get my hands on it.  The ending of Daughter of Smoke and Bone doesn't give me that cliffhanger push to find the next book immediately, so it may be a while, but I'll get there.  Maybe if I ever revive my Audible account.  Speaking of which, the audiobook was really good.  I often find that the audio version of books written by woman, particularly ones targeted at teenage girls, are narrated by women using the cute, squeaky, totally obnoxious voices who can't do men's voices to save their lives.  Not so with Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  The narrator, Khristine Hvam, has a rich storytelling voice, perfect intonation (particularly for a teenager's cadence), and does accents (of which there are many in the book) perfectly.  It was a pleasure to listen to, in addition to a good story.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Classics Club ~ 1 Year Update

Though it doesn't seem possible, it has already been a whole year since I signed up for The Classics Club, a whopping five year reading commitment.  I went for the base goal of 50 classics (a term I chose to use rather loosely in 5 years).  One year later, my progress is (drumroll please) right on target!  I've read 10 of the books on my list, which means that as long as I keep up the pace, I will finish the list by August 24, 2017.  Hoorah!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pure ~ Julianna Baggott

I think it's pretty safe to say that dystopia has gotten awfully popular lately, which a younger version of me would have loved.  Years ago, once I'd read The Handmaid's Tale, 1984, A Brave New World, and Anthem, I used to desperately search for other dystopias.  I was satisfied with The Road, though that's really post-apocolyptic (but still has the remnants of a world gone wrong) and was happy to get Oryx and Crake.  Then, all of a sudden, dystopia exploded - not only was everyone reading it, but everyone was writing it too.  As tends to be the case with such things, the overall quality inevitably went down, though there are still some gems, like The Hunger Games and, I thought or at least hoped, Pure.  I was excited to read it.  Really, really excited.  Not only is it both dystopia, but it's also post-apocolyptic AND I'd heard great things about it.  Unfortunately for me, it fell flat on its face.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Woman in White ~ Wilkie Collins

When I was 11, I wrote my first novel.  It was about a boarding school for orphaned girls who were all named after my friends, with the first and last names mixed up to protect their privacy.  It included a Ouija board, which nightly predicted the disappearances of one orphan after another.  It ended with the satifyingly creepy conclusion that one of the school's guards had somehow been locked in a mental ward while her crazed and identical sister had taken her place and started taking the girls.  I don't remember what she did with them but I do know that they all lived.  My English teacher read it and now, 15 years later and having read The Woman in White, I am drawn to the inevitable conclusion that she must have thought me to be an extraordinarily well-read sixth grader.  That, or a totally unoriginal one*.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Fun Home ~ Alison Bechdel

Lately, I've been wanting to start reading graphic novels/memoirs again, but haven't been sure where to start.  Most of what I've read in the past has been assigned by professors, and I find it hard to sort out for myself the stuff I like from all the superhero/manga stuff out there (not that I have a problem with those genres, I'm just not interested).  I've been hearing about Alison Bechdel's new graphic memoir, Are You My Mother? for a while now, but was hesitant to buy another book by her since I didn't particularly like Fun Home.  So I decided to save my money and give Fun Home another try - it's been over six years (over six years?!?!?!) since my graphic novel class, so surely my perspective will have changed and I will now understand why people think this book is the cat's meow, yes?  FALSE.  I think I actually liked it less this time around.