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Review : Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Pages : 418
Genre : YA, Fantasy
Series : Daughter of Smoke and Bone, book 1
My Rating : 

From the book : 

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

My Thoughts :

No, your eyes do not deceive you; Daughter of Smoke and Bone really got five fat stars from me, a rating I rarely give to books. But it deserves it greatly; it was one of the most original novels I have read in a while, not in comparison to other YA novels, but in comparison to books of all genres and cagories. What a breath of fresh air Laini Taylor offers us with this beautiful, captivating story!

First, I have to say this : if you have any interest in this book, I would highly recommend that you step carefully in the world of reviews whether it is on blogs, Goodreads, Amazon or other communities. Spoilers abound even in the simple “tags” people attach to the book, which could ruin many surprises for you. This is why I chose to use the summary from the book; I tried to write one that wouldn’t spoil anything and carry a good feel of what the book was about, but I was unsuccessful and for once, I felt the publisher really did a great job with it, so here we go! I also limited the tags I attached to this review. This book really is better if you go in totally unspoiled.

Karou is an incredibly captivating character, and a beautifully written one. She’s aware of her difference, and the author doesn’t explain her situation all at once in the first few pages, keeping a little of the mystery surrounding her – which mirrors perfectly Karou’s habit of being mysterious in her life, to hide her unusual story. It’s not often that we are given a third person narration in YA fiction but it worked great, allowing us to visit both Karou and Akiva (the mysterious guy that will, of course, change her life). And while we’re on the subject, I loved Akiva. As intriguing as Karou, he had a personality of his own and a story I just couldn’t wait to hear more about.

There was so much going on in this novel, and the author kept me continuously on my toes. Every time something happened or something was revealed, I thought “that’s it then, that’s what the book is about!” And every time,  there was more waiting around the corner, surprising me and bringing more questions into the mix. Karou’s errands, the “wishes” she spends on little things, the mystery of who she is and the mystery of Akiva, they all contributed to something, bigger, greater, that took my breath away. Add to that an amazing mythology unlike anything else, and I was hooked to this book, without a chance to escape!

I loved this book so much that, rather than being looking forward to its sequel, I am in fact a little worried about it. Can it be as awesome? Surprise me again, captivate me even more? Have you ever felt like that? It seems impossible at this moment, but I’ll have to trust the author to take me on this journey.

Series Reading Order :

  1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone
  2. – coming September 2012 –
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Review : An Object of Beauty

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
Pages : 292
Genre : Fiction, Art
Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

An ambitious young woman, Lacey is ready to take the New York art market by storm. With both wits and looks on her side, Lacey has no problem making her way up the social ladder while building herself a career. But her ascension is not without risks and difficult decisions, and her actions are not without consequences – both for her and the people around her.

My Thoughts :

This.

This BOOK.

This is the book I had been waiting for since the start of 2011. A book that will forever stay with me and will be shelved proudly among my favorites.

This wasn’t my first experience with Steve Martin’s writing and I had already been charmed twice before. So, I was expecting something good from An Object of Beauty, especially since its subject, art, is so close to my heart. What I hadn’t expected was to be blown away by a story centering on such a character and where in truth, very little happen.

But the thing is, An Object of Beauty is much more complex than that. Though we are following Lacey’s career from the start to her later years, she sometimes felt more like a vehicle for the captivating setting of New York’s art world. Martin goes at length to describe the arts, the events, the important characters, sometimes more than is necessary for the novel. I’m guessing some readers, not enthusiasts of the art world, will get bored with the history lessons, but I personally loved each second of it. And what fiction Martin added to history to create his novel just worked perfectly.

And while the book presents its story’s as being about this ambitious young woman, it isn’t exactly about Lacey. The book is written not from the first person nor from an omniscient narrator, but by Daniel Franks, a friend of Lacey. Therefore, the narrator is unreliable in the sense that he doesn’t always know what was going on with Lacey at one point in time. He relies on what she may have told him, on what others have told him or on his own experience, but I felt it created a form of detachment between the character of Lacey and I, the reader. Rather than taking you inside Lacey’s mind and life, the book is more like meeting with a friends who tells you all about this person that he knows but that you, personally, have never met; it might make you curious about this person, but it would be hard to get attached.

The narrator also has his own purpose and that, for me, was an excellent surprise. It’s not a “twist” in itself, but more like a late development that made me go “Ah! now I get it!” It follows with a certain mysterious event happening around the middle of the book, I think, but of which we don’t know the details until close to the end.

As for Lacey, she was fascinating enough but not in an exaggerated manner. While she charms and flirts, she doesn’t sleep her way to the top but uses her instinct and her knowledge, too. And let me tell you, I loved the idea of an ambitious career woman who’s not a cheap seductress (as often portrayed in fiction), and who can charm without giving everything away. She wasn’t perfect either, but she certainly had her strengths.

Wrapped up with Martin’s excellent prose and illustrated with many of the arts mentioned, An Object of Beauty is certainly deserving of the praise it has received so far. While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think those who like it will really, really like it.

As for me, I am keeping my copy on a safe shelf, to be re-read in a not so far future.

Review : Ponies



Ponies 
by Kij Johnson
Genre : Fantasy, Horror
Short Story
My Rating :

Where to read it?

On Tor’s website : http://www.tor.com/stories/2010/11/ponies

What it’s about :

Ponies.

My Thoughts :

This will be a really short review: in fact, if I’m writing this, it’s only because I wanted to share this awesome short story with you all.

I’m hoping the “fantasy” and “horror” tags won’t stand in your way, although it is a bit of a disturbing story.

Still, I can think of few stories that impacted me as much as Ponies did. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s been on my mind ever since I read it this week.

I’ve never been a fan of short stories, but sometimes I come across one like this that makes me appreciate them again. Even though it’s really short (maybe 2, 3 pages?), it packs a punch. The author did an amazing job to write such a fantastic story, so true to life, and in so few words. A powerful look into the workings of peer pressure, but also about the loss of imagination that comes with growing up. It made me incredibly sad, but powerful stories like Ponies remind me why I love reading so much.

Retro Friday Review : Santa Olivia

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!

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Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
Pages : 341
Genre : Dystopia, Sci-Fi, GLBT
Series : Santa Olivia, Book 1
My Rating : 

From Goodreads :

Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. A fugitive “Wolf-Man” who had a love affair with a local woman, Loup’s father was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated by the US government, engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, sensory capability, stamina, and a total lack of fear.

Loup, named for and sharing her father’s wolf-like qualities, is marked as an outsider. After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: they form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint, Santa Olivia, uses her special abilities to avenge the town.

My Thoughts :

I read Santa Olivia in 2009 and loved it so much, I couldn’t write a review for it. I wanted to do the book justice, and in the end, I never found the right words. Go me!

This book was a great experience for me on two levels : first for the book itself, and secondly because it was one of the few books that both the Man of the House and I read, which means we got to talk about it. He is a huge fan of Carey’s fantasy series, but this book was my first time reading her, and I just fell in love with her writing. There is something different about it, something I couldn’t pinpoint but, combined with great story and characters, made the book a compulsory read for me.

While not the most original out there, the idea, a kind of “superhero-meets-government-conspiracies” story, was really intriguing. But what hook me into the story, really, was the character of Loup. I’ve met few characters that had that quality of both puzzling me and being easy to figure out. And I know it does sound contradictory, but it’s still true. The fact that, physically, she wasn’t completely “normal” made her motivations and her reactions clear enough; the fact that she wasn’t “normal” also placed her in a different spot than the rest of the characters, or than the readers, meaning that her reactions were often different than what you would expect from a “normal” person.

The romance between Loup and Pilar also plays an important part in the story, and I loved how contemporary it felt. For me, that relationship was one of the really strong points of the book : everything Loup felt, I felt through the words. Also, I loved having a non heterosexual main character in a book, without the book being all about dealing with sexual identities. It is part of the story, a really important one, but it’s really not the only focus, and while books dealing with GLBT issues are a necessity, I believe it is also necessary to show that a GLBT character can have a story outside of his/her sexual identity – that sexual identity, while important, isn’t the only thing defining an individual.

I did think the book had some faults. I felt like some aspects of the setting weren’t fully explored or explained, that many questions were left unanswered. At the time, there wasn’t a second book planned, so that really puzzled me. I still loved it though, because sometimes when it comes to books, I’m just irrational like that : I see the flaws and I choose to ignore them. I’m not the only one, right?

Although Santa Olivia is NOT a teen/YA novel, it would be really on trend with many YA books currently on the market :  it has a dystopian world where a disease made most people sick, it’s a bit futuristic without being full-on sci-fi, there’s a government gone bad, action, a strong female lead, etc. But since there are many YA readers who are, like me, of grown up age, I think it might be something that would interest some of you too! 🙂

I’m placing this one on my shelf and planning on re-reading it soon, hopefully, as book two is on its way for October. Yay!

Series Reading Order :

  1. Santa Olivia
  2. Saints Astray (coming October 2011)

Review : Fall for Anything

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers
Pages : 230
Genre : YA, Fiction
Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

After her father takes his own life, Eddie is haunted by the question : why? What pushed him to commit suicide, leaving his wife and daughter behind? Then she meets Culler Evans, her father’s student, and the two discover photographs that might lead them to answers. As they follow the clues, Eddie is faced with even more questions : why does she feel such an attraction to Culler? Will knowing the truth help her go through her grief?

I will dare say that Courtney Summers did it again : yes, once more her words hit hard and strong, and they took my breath away with this tragic story of grief.

The man who did every stereotypical father cliché in the book and acted like he loved it. I don’t think of him anymore. I buried him. Now it’s like I’m looking for answers to a stranger’s death and I couldn’t tell anyone why it’s so important to me, because this stranger didn’t do anything for me. (p. 133)

Summers is well known in the community of young adult fiction readers, and her two previous books have gathered great praise. I, personally, really liked Cracked up to be and liked Some Girls are a little less. Still, I have greatly appreciated the way she has with words, and I knew Fall for Anything would soon be on the top of my TBR pile.

I wasn’t disappointed. Even more than that, Fall for Anything is my favorite of Summers’ novels and my first favorite of 2011. I feel like I have lived through this book without taking a single breath. I couldn’t let it go before knowing what would happen, and in those cruel moments when life separated me from the pages, Eddie’s story was continuously on my mind.

Imagine you’re the weight around a person who jumps.
That you are what keeps them falling. (p.182)

With Eddie grieving her father, Summers does a great and realistic exploration of loss, but also of what this loss means to those who stay behind when this departure was a decision of the deceased. I could relate to Eddie even’t though I have never been in her exact place, mainly because she was more than a daughter mourning a father : through various events and glimpses of her thoughts, we get to know her as who she was before, and who she is now. She also is surrounded by an interesting cast of characters, who each have their own way of dealing with the grief. While a couple of them, like Missy or Beth, felt a bit stereotyped, they in fact were a good balance to the main characters. Also, I loved Milo, though I wish I could have gotten a better sense of who he was.

I think an aspect I love the most of Summers’ writing, apart from her simple yet precise use of words, is how her books don’t really offer resolution in the typical way other novels do. The story does lead somewhere, and some answers are given, and there is some hope for the best, yes; but I never leave feeling like the story ended there. It’s more like I caught a glimpse in someone else’s life, and I leave with a vague idea of what will happen, yet with no certainty.

A lot like life, really.

Click on the covers to read my thoughts on Courtney Summers’ previous books :

Review : Blankets

Blankets by Craig Thompson
Pages : 582
Genre : Graphic novel, Autobiographical
Stand alone
My Rating :

In a few words :

A coming-of-age graphic novel, portraying two brothers’ rivalry, church camp and a romance between two passionated teens, wrapped-up in reflexions on faith, love, and life.

Despite all the very positive reviews I had seen prior to reading Blankets, I wasn’t ready for how beautiful and emotional this reading would be. Despite its scary size, I read it all in one day – a day where I laughed, cried, hoped and hurt through the lives of Craig Thompson’s characters.

I think the most surprising thing was how much it didn’t matter that it was a graphic novel. By that I mean that as I read, even though I spent the longest time looking at Thompson’s incredibly beautiful illustrations, I was so taken by the story that I became as involved with the characters as I would have with those of a novel. I had never experienced such a close connection with characters of a graphic novel before, and I believe it speaks a lot about the author’s talent at both writing and drawing his story.

The telling of his romance with Raina is so beautiful and heartfelt that I couldn’t help relive with them the emotions of a first love. At the same time, his experience of growing in a strict Christian family reminded me too much of people I knew growing up, and of my experience of it as a teenager. Now, I know Thompson’s (and mine) experience isn’t necessarily what everyone experienced, but it was so close to what I had seen that it made me somewhat uncomfortable emotionally. The idea of a young man growing up with so much shame saddens me more than I can say.

I found Thompson’s illustrating so beautiful and raw, too. It said everything the words didn’t, and I felt like the characters were moving through the pages. They felt real, alive, which contrasted with the immobility I often find in graphic novels.

I highly recommend this one, even if you aren’t into graphic novels. This story just has so much to offer!