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Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow

12 Mar

SorrowsKnotCoverTitle: Sorrow’s Knot
Author: Erin Bow
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 368

The girl who remade the world was born in winter.

Otter is one of the Shadowed People. The free women of the forest live without men, for men are powerless against the ever restless dead. Every bit of shadow could conceal one of the three kinds of dead: slip, ghasts, and White Hands. Slip and ghasts are the little dead – unidentifiable spirits of some living form or another, they cannot kill you on their own, just give you a permanent chill, or unmake the flesh that they touch. White Hands, however, were human once, and to be touched by a White Hand means that over the course of nine days the afflicted will gradually go mad, until another Hand eats its way out, leaving the human body nothing but an empty husk. Otter’s mother is a binder, one of the powerful women whose job it is to contain the dead, and it has always been assumed that she would follow in her mother’s footprints to become a binder herself. However, when the death of the eldest binder in the Pinch unleashes a horrific chain of events, Otter’s entire world is turned upside down and everything she thought she knew about the world begins to unravel.

So, first thing first: this book is FREAKING AMAZING. As in, the best book I’ve read so far this year. It’s dark and lyrical and heavy and just so good I can’t stop thinking about it. Erin Bow is nothing short of intimidating – her writing is so achingly beautiful and fresh that there were times when I actually got goosebumps. Just for flavor, here is the first passage in which we meet one of the little dead:

Something was resting in the nest of shadows under a cornstalk, something stirring as Cricket’s hand came near. Something gawk-stretched and ugly as a new-hatched bird with no feathers and skin over its eyes. Something that moved subtly, like the earth moving above something buried. Something struggling and starving.

Gawk-stretched. GAWK-STRETCHED. That pairing of words is so perfect it makes my heart clench a little, and this entire book is full of the same evocative, lyrical language. Erin Bow is the kind of brilliant wordsmith that makes me feel like I should just give up, because I will never, ever be this good. There is a rhythm to her writing that is reminiscent of telling a story around a fire that keeps the shadows back; the repetition of certain phrases (Ware the dead!) and specific stories adds to the feeling that you aren’t reading a book, but sitting at Bow’s feet and being told a story that’s been handed down time untold.

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Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

8 Feb

10836471Title: Midwinterblood
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Genre: fantastic
Page Count: 272

The sun does not go down.

This mind trip of a Printz medalist starts with a journalist traveling to a remote island to dig up the truth behind a peculiar but persistent rumor: the inhabitants have started to live forever. Once there he keeps catching himself in a repeating pattern of intense deja vu that starts with love at first sight and ends with ritual murder. Thus begins the first of seven narratives traveling backwards through time, all linked by repeating motifs and interlinked souls that return to the living world play out their stories, again and again and again.

First sentence is pretty good, in that it is indicative of the stark creepiness that pervades the entire book.

I will admit that as I was reading this book I was unconvinced of its Printz worthiness. It’s not terribly accessible, the seven linked narratives inhibit personal investment in the characters and their stories, it feels distant and cold. But then I finished it, and the very end of the very last chapter tied all the weirdness together, and I straight up could not stop thinking about it. I finished it days ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it. Do I think this book deserves the Printz? Yes. Would I recommend it to the majority of my teen readers? Hell to the no. Here’s why, on both counts.

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The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

22 Sep

Dream-Thieves-CoverTitle: The Dream Thieves
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 438

A secret is a strange thing.

After waking the ley line (or corpse road, or fairy road), nothing is the same for Blue and her Raven Boys. Ronan, a boy broken and made savage from trauma, loses himself to the seduction of being the Greywaren: a being who can pull objects from the dream world into reality. Adam’s promise to be the eyes and ears of Cabeswater is consuming him as it attempts to work its will through him. Blue still can’t make out with anyone but poor dead Noah without risking killing whichever poor boy she decides to smooch. And to make things more complicated, a hitman has been sent to retrieve the Greywaren from Henrietta and decides to make out with Blue’s mom in the meantime. Life is rough.

I will start by saying that I liked the first book in this trilogy, The Raven Boys, a lot. But you know what? I freaking LOVED The Dream Thieves. Here is why.

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In Darkness by Nick Lake

9 Apr

11451112I am the voice in the dark, calling out for your help.

Nick Lake‘s In Darkness is the 2013 Printz Award winning story of a nameless teen trapped in the rubble underneath a collapsed hospital after the Haiti earthquake. His only companion in the darkness is a decomposing hand, his own memories, and a psychic connection to Touissant l’Ouverture, a Haitian revolutionary who lived 200 years earlier.

So, this book is…wait for it…dark. And when I say it’s dark, I mean dark in every sense of the word. Half of the narrative’s setting is defined by absolute darkness. The sense of claustrophobia as we experience the narrator’s blindness, his thirst that drives him to drink whatever blood has collected on the floor, to reach out and touch a disembodied hand just to see if his only companion in his coffin is alive, is overwhelmingly visceral.

The subject matter is dark. It is a story of horrible lives, of murder and murderers, of watching your father get hacked apart by machete toting gangsters, of fighting for your country’s freedom only to die in a dungeon on the other side of the world. This is the kind of story that, for the bulk of its telling, makes you want to kill yourself from the overwhelming sense that there is nothing good in the world, at all.

The writing is staggering in its bleak beauty. Some of my favorite quotes include:

“I tried to call out, but bullets are faster than words, and I was just standing there in the middle of all that metal death” (263).

“We have a mouth – we can feel it in our face, an opening into us that can let the spirit out – but when we use it, when we speak, there is no one to listen. The voices that come to us, drifting through the darkness beyond our prison, they might as well be the voices of the dead. (…) We are a slave to this space, to the inevitable decay of trapped things. We can feed ourselves, but there is no food; we can work with our hands and with our minds, but there is nothing on which to work; we have eyes, but there is nothing to see. There is no future and no past. We are in the darkness. We are one” (326-7).

One of my favorite things about this book was the spirit of Om that came through more and more strongly as the narrative progressed; the sense of emptiness and unity, while horribly depressing in context, was also one of the only reoccurring moments in which I, as a reader, felt liberated from the oppressing sense of insurmountable awfulness.

At times I struggled to get through Touissant’s half of the narrative; it just didn’t have the pop that our nameless narrator’s story had. However, I appreciated the parallels of experience that spanned the hundreds of years between their physical lives, and so I was able to deal.

All in all, this is a pretty amazing book that still continues to haunt me even though I finished it about two weeks ago. However, there are parts that can be difficult to get through without wanting to say “fuck this world, I want to die,” so just be forewarned if you do decide to pick it up.

And, just because Biggie Smalls is mentioned every other page, it’s only fitting that he gets the spotlight for this edition’s music match.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

8 Feb

10194157Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 356

The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.

Alina Starkov is an orphan to the border wars that have plagued her world, an imagined Russia called Ravka, and has always had family in her best friend and fellow orphan, Mal. After they grow out of the orphanage where they spent their childhood they are both enlisted in the First Army; Mal as a tracker, Alina as a cartographer. When they are sent on a mission to cross the Shadow Fold, a blot of darkness where nothing can grow or survive, an attack by the winged, flesh-eating volcra brings out a power that Alina didn’t even know she had. Before she understands what has happened to her, she is whisked off by the Darkling, head of the powerful Grisha Second Army. The Grisha all have powers, whether they are corporalki heartrenders or etherealki inferni, but Alina’s power has never been seen before and could be the key to the destruction of the Shadow Fold. As she gets sucked into the dazzling world of the Grisha, her uniqueness makes her the object of envy for many and marks her as the Darkling’s favorite; but when she unwittingly gets pulled into an ancient power play, she realizes that everything she knew about her new life was based on a fabrication, and that the fate of the world could balance on what she does with that knowledge.

So, this book sounds pretty tight, right? Well, it’s not. Kind of. I mean, maybe? Dammit, I finished this book two days ago and I STILL can’t figure out how I feel about it. The premise is so, so, good, but the execution is so, so lackluster.

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Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

6 Feb

12812550Title: Days of Blood and Starlight
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 517

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil held a wishbone between them. And its snap split the world in two. 

After breaking the enchanted wishbone that held all Karou’s memories of her life as Madrigal, the chimaera resurrectionist’s apprentice beheaded for loving the angel Akiva, Karou finally felt as if she had all the answers regarding her mysterious identity that she had been searching for for her entire life. But within minutes of getting all those answers she also learned that Akiva had betrayed her, and that the age-old war between angels and chimaera had been rekindled as a result of that betrayal. Days of Blood and Starlight picks up right where Daughter of Smoke and Bone left off. Akiva has returned to his regiment of Misbegotten (bastards sired by the Emperor to be soldiers) where he must hide his grief over what he has done, pretending to go along with the enslavement and murder of chimaera so he can covertly try to save and warn as many as he can of their impending slaughter. Meanwhile, Karou has transported what’s left of the chimaera army to a Kasbah in Morocco, where she has taken up Brimstone’s mantle as resurrectionist for the White Wolf. But as Akiva and Karou, in different worlds appearing to work towards different ends, begin to unravel threads of conspiracy, intrigue, and deception, it becomes more and more apparent that they are still both working to the same end: hope for peace.

So, for months now I’ve been getting lackluster feedback about this book from my various friends and coworkers. And I get it, but I disagree. Whereas Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a perfect blend of urban fantasy and high fantasy, to the point that it could potentially appeal to paranormal fans and readers who don’t necessarily loooooooove fantasy, Days of Blood and Starlight is straight up high fantasy. It’s an all out war in another world; even the parts that take place in our world are utterly removed from the world as we know it (excluding the parts with Mik and Zuzana)(and yes I know I just used the word “world” three times in one sentence). While I am 100% cool with this, the genre shift means that Days of Blood and Starlight has a fairly different appeal, so I guess I get the disappointment in some contingencies of the readership.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

7 Jan

8490112Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 448 pages

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.

It did not end well.

Karou is a young art student in Prague who has no idea who she actually is. Her hair grows out of her head a luscious shade of blue, she can speak a stupid amount of languages, and her sketch books are filled with hundreds upon hundreds of sketches of ghoulish devils, all with elaborate back-stories that she tells her friends. Only, they’re not just stories. Karou grew up in a devil’s lair; she is the ward of the Wishmonger, a devil named Brimstone who (you guessed it!) deals in wishes, selling them for teeth pulled out of the mouths of corpses by ghastly characters. One day, all over the world, blackened hand prints start showing up on  doors, and people report sighting strange beings who appear human, but whose shadows have wings. When Karou finds a handprint on the door to Brimstone’s shop, she is pulled into an otherworldly war between devils and angels, a war that she has been a part of for much longer than she knows.

This book has been getting an insane amount of hype ever since it came out, and I kept telling myself “by golly, I really want to read that! The next time it’s on the shelf at the library I’ll grab it.” Only, it was never on the shelf, and eventually I had to suck it up and put a hold on it, and thank god I did because this book is da bomb and easily one of the most enjoyable books I read in 2012.

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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

18 Nov

Earlier this  year I totally fell in love with Maggie Stiefvater‘s The Scorpio Races,  so when I heard that she had a new release coming out this year I got pretty stoked. Alas, while The Raven Boys is definitely a solid read, it ain’t no Scorpio Races 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 etc.

Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.

Blue comes from a family of bona fide psychics, and every single one of those kooky ladies has told her that if and when she kisses her true love he will die. If that isn’t a total teenage love life buzz kill, I don’t know what is, man. Every year Blue accompanies her mother to an ancient burial ground on the Corpse Road, a ley line of mystical energy where, once a year, the spirits of those who are going to die in the next year manifest. Being the only non-psychic in a family full of clairvoyants, Blue has never seen a single dang spirit, but this year she sees one: a boy named Gansey from Aglionby, the local prep school. MEANWHILE. Gansey, who is really rich and kind of oblivious as to how much richer he is than the rest of the world, is really obsessed with finding Glendower, some old magical Welsh king he believes to be buried on the ley line in Henrietta. (In other words, Gansey is kind of a crazy old crack pot mystical conspiracy theorist in a teenage body). He’s supported by a hodge podge of outcasts from Aglionby: Rowen, a surly dude who discovered his father’s dead body; Adam, hyper-intelligent and ambitious trailer trash scholarship student; and Noah, some weird smudgy kid who never eats and seems to have social anxiety. FATE means Blue is destined to get sucked into the Raven Boys quest for MAGIC. Cue: danger, romance, etc. etc. etc.

I will start by saying that when I first read the blurb of this book, I was a little backed off by the true love/destiny feel of it. It seemed like Stiefvater was maybe going to head back into purple melodrama territory, and I don’t like her writing as much when it’s in that camp. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall tone, which is one of preordained mystery, class tension, and of repression: repressed emotions, repressed energies, repressed sexuality, respressed secrets, and repressed MAGIC, all just waiting to boil over and explode. The romantic melodrama contained in the first sentence was all but absent, which was sweet, sweet relief.

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The Diviners by Libba Bray

5 Nov

Remember way back when I said I was super duper beyond excited to read Libba Bray‘s The Diviners? Well, that happened, and it was awesome. So awesome that when I left my library copy at home when I left to fly to New York I bought my own copy from the airport bookstore. Yes. I dug it so much that I couldn’t stand not being able to read it for a week and spent actual dollars on it.

In a town house at a fashionable address on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, every lamp blazes.

It’s the roaring twenties, and free-wheeling modern gal Evie O’Neill has been sent from small town Ohio to New York City to live with her uncle while a scandal she was involved in cools down. You see, Evie has a gift which allows her to see into people’s pasts by touching something that belongs to them and, being the attention-hog that she is, sometimes she hits the sauce a little too hard and whips out her gift, exposing secrets better left buried. Unfortunately for Evie (and fortunately for the reader!) Evie doesn’t have much hope of hiding her gift when she’s living with her uncle, curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult (i.e., the Museum of Creepy Crawlies) and the city is being haunted by Naughty John, a muy muy loco serial killing spirit made manifest by a poorly-timed Ouija game (yes! yes really! I love you, Libba Bray). Evie isn’t the only gifted teen being drawn into the supernatural maelstrom that is enveloping New York; as their stories begin to entwine, it becomes clear that Naughty John’s gruesome murders are just a small slice of a greater evil that is approaching and luring in the Diviners, one by one.

God, where to start. OK, how about this: I FREAKING LOVED THIS BOOK. It was one of those stellar bits of paper and glue that I couldn’t stop gushing about to everyone who had the misfortune of talking to me for more than two minutes. It has everything: mystery; plucky, dynamic characters; seriously SCARY parts (I actually had nightmares); and some VERY slow burning and STEAMY romance. And. AND. It’s Libba Bray, and she is one of my particular favorite writerly flavors.

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Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr

20 Oct

Well, the rains have finally rolled into Vancouver, and with that my urge to go out and be social and soak up sunshine has died a miserable death. Now all I want to do is snuggle under blankets and read books to the constant pitter-patter of rainy little feet on my roof. Yesterday I indulged that desire to nest and hide away from the world and finished my first ever Melissa Marr book, A Carnival of Souls. I have to admit that I think I was partially drawn to this book because it’s about daimons, which is one letter away from being the same word as daemons, the external souls found in His Dark Materials, a.k.a. the best books ever. Silly, I know.

The man – WITCH – who’d summoned Selah was nothing like what she’d expected.

Seventeen-year-old Mallory has been trained in self-defense and combat from an early age. Her father, a powerful witch named Adam, wants her to be prepared for the day when she finally comes up against a daimon, fierce otherworldly creatures that she has been taught to fear and hate for her entire life. However, Adam hasn’t been entirely truthful with Mallory: she is a daimon herself, the stolen daughter of Marchiosas, ruler of The City. The City, a labyrinthine lair of decadence and violence in the caste-stratified daimon world, is also home to the Carnival of Souls. Each generation the Carnival of Souls hosts a series of death matches in which any daimon can enter for the chance to improve his or her lot in life. Ruling-caste Aya wants to rule the city and escape her role as a glorified breeder. The assassin cur Kaleb wants to transcend his violent, degrading hand-to-mouth way of living. The fates of these three young daimons become more and more entwined as it becomes evident that they are each instrumental in each other’s deliverance.

This book has a hella promising premise. The hedonistic Carnival made me think of Mardi Gras on fairy dust. For all the sexy smoke and mirrors, though, Marr’s world just doesn’t deliver. That shimmering facade of a well-executed and imagined daimon world was just that – a facade. I never understood more about it than I did from the opening chapters. For one, I never truly understood what a daimon was. They seemed to be almost werewolf like shapeshifters who change when threatened or fighting, but, I don’t know? I never grasped the full difference between the castes, either. I get that ruling-caste people are on top, scabs on the bottom, and curs in the middle, but why did curs have packs and nobody else? If Kaleb was a cur with a soul-deep need to build a pack, how was he a scab to begin with? Are ALL daimons curs, just spread through the different castes? Is there anything else beyond the city other than the vaguely described “Untamed Lands”? So many questions! None of them answered!

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