13.24–Neverwhere

13.24–Neverwhere

All that really needs to be said about this book is: I was already a Neil Gaiman fan girl, and this book only serves to reinforce those feelings of love, obsession, and worship for him as a writer.  How can one call herself a fan girl if she’s never read Neverwhere? The question is irrelevant because I finally have.  It is, of course, brilliant.  Everything Gaiman writes is magical (and not just in its content, but in its structure and presentation).

When Richard Mayhew stops to aid a bleeding girl he finds on the street, he has no idea that his life is about to be changed forever–and not in any way he is going to like.  The next day he awakes to discover that he does not exist.  No record of his having been born exists, his bank does not recognize his PIN, and neither his girlfriend nor his coworkers have any knowledge of having known him before.  His apartment is rented out to another couple while he is in the bath, and no one in London can see him.  Assisted reluctantly by a girl named Door, he embarks on a journey to restore himself to the world he knows.  But as his journey continues, his regard for the shadowy world of London Below begins to shift, as does his regard for himself, until he emerges as a hero quite unlike the buffoon he was when he stumbled over Door in the street.

I loved London Below.  The idea of a dark, underground, unknown society existing below and simultaneously in London, was brilliant.  The concept reminded me somewhat of the ideas of Heaven and Hell–we tend to think of them as being located above and below, respectively, when it’s really more that they exist in a separate dimension entirely.

Once again, here is a book quite unlike anything I’ve ever read.  Gaiman manages to create, seemingly effortlessly, a wholly unique and unusual world, into whose depths the reader dives both with trepidation and excitement.  The book possesses a cast of characters who deserve to be recognized–Door, the Marquis, Richard, Hunter, and Islington, among the numerous others.  They are each such startling contrasts to each other, such vibrant caricatures, but they work well together to create a story that’s interesting, gripping, and infuriating at intervals.

I definitely recommend this one. It would actually make an excellent introduction to the work of Neil Gaiman (naturally, as it was, I believe, his first novel of the non-graphic variety).  It is dark, dangerous, and frightening without the wickedness and violence that some of his subsequent works possess.  Please, read Neil Gaiman! Your life will change! Your world will be rocked! Promise :)

13.23–Fuse

13.23–Fuse

Fuse is the sequel to Pure, and is perhaps even more thrilling than the first book. In it, Partridge, Pressia, Bradwell, El Capitan, and Lyda are rocketed on separate quests to save their incredibly flawed world.  More secrets about the evils of the Dome are revealed, and the reader’s hunger for justice grows as it grows within the characters.

There was so much about this book that I loved.  One of the things that stuck out the most to me was the development of the relationships between the characters.  Pressia and Bradwell learn how to navigate their complicated feelings for one another–their love mixed with the fierce desire to protect one another by denying their mutual feelings.  Lyda and Partridge explore the feelings they never got to admit to each other when they were inside the Dome.  Even El Capitan and his brother Helmud start to build a relationship–one that consists of more than mutual hatred for their nearly unbearable situation.  Helmud begins to show a personality of his own, and as twisted as it is, their relationship is a little bit heartwarming.

The plot was strong in this one.  I was constantly kept in the grip of suspense.  Because she did such a good job of establishing relationships between the characters, and of establishing the reader’s affections for those relationships, the strain and danger she puts them through is really emotionally taxing on the reader.  Partridge and Lyda, especially, separated by forces much more powerful than they are, keep the reader guessing about what will happen to their budding love.

Julianna Baggott has created a very strong second novel for her trilogy.  It did not feel like a filler, as second novels often do.  I was very impressed with her ability to make it feel like it’s own story.  That said, I really cannot wait for the third one to come out, though I know it won’t be for a long time.  Her world-building and storytelling are skillful enough that I’m dying to know what happens in the end! Too bad there isn’t even a publication date yet.  The good news is that gives you (the people who haven’t picked up and read both of them yet) the time to get caught up and breathlessly await the conclusion to the series!


13.12–The Child Thief

13.12–The Child Thief

This book is CRAZY.  Based (loosely) on the story of Peter Pan, this novel written and illustrated by Brom is insane, dark, and a little bit terrifying.

A word to the wise: do not read this if you have a weak stomach.  Brom is really fond of violence and gore.  I wished that he’d toned it down a bit, but it really wouldn’t have been the same story without it.  The Child Thief is the story of Peter and his quest to save his home.  In this tale, which takes place in the mythical land of Avalon, rather than in Neverland, Peter cannot fly.  He is lightning quick, having been suffused over his lifetime with the magic of Avalon.  But Avalon is threatened by a race of creatures called Flesh-eaters–beings that used to be human, but whose evil, cruel nature, combined with Avalon’s magical air, has warped them to reflect the demons they are inside.  Peter recruits children from the human world, taking in the runaways, homeless, and unwanted youth and turning them into his own private army to save Avalon.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages because the blurb on the jacket made me incredibly curious.  The book was awesome, but not in the way I was expecting.  The beginning dragged for me a bit, but a little way into it the story picks up and it’s nearly impossible to put down.  Brom’s prose is engaging but nothing special; at times it feels a little youthful and inexperienced.  Perhaps it was simply his subject, as most of his characters are under 12 years old.  And Peter…

Peter takes some getting used to.   He isn’t the boy we know and love from popular culture. Brom includes an afterword that gives some idea of what inspired him, including a bit about a more violent, much darker story that was the precursor to the Peter Pan story that is common today.  The first glaring difference is that Peter cannot fly.  He is grounded, and though he is extremely quick, both on his feet and with a blade, he is still subject to the same weakness as his band of Devils.  Though Disney has much altered the way most people think of Peter, in the book he is actually rather selfish. In this respect, Brom has Peter pinned.  This Peter is extremely egocentric and self-serving. His sole purpose for living and striving to save Avalon is to save the Lady, or the queen of Avalon.  He is smitten with her, seemingly both as a mother figure and as an object of lust (odd), and over the centuries has sent hundreds of his Devils to their deaths for the sake of one woman.  Granted, if she dies, all of Avalon dies as well, so it’s a valid goal.  But his single-mindedness is the cause of death and destruction for the children he tricks into Avalon.  The reader has a difficult time deciding to love or to hate him.  At times he seems a worthy leader, and at others reveals himself as the selfish child he truly is.  Despite this, he inspires incredible loyalty in his band of Devils, for having saved them from their tragic lives in the human realm  and for giving them a purpose.

The plot is drawn-out and complicated, but incredibly worth reading to the end.  Events escalate quickly, and the final battle for Avalon between the Devils–aided by the magical creatures of Avalon–and the Flesh-eaters takes a turn no one would expect.  All the while, Peter must also protect himself and his Devils from a man with a burning hatred for Peter–a man who, though of Avalon, would bring his own world down around his ears to destroy Peter.  Brom takes the conflict much farther than the reader would expect, diminishing almost all hope in the reader for a happy ending.  Rather than there being one plot twist, there are several, and the reader cannot help but devour the book, desperate to know what happens and with a wretched desire for things to somehow end well for Avalon, Peter, and the Devils.

Parts of the novel made me grimace in disgust, but for the most part it was a wickedly delightful novel.  Brim-full of magic and suspense, it’s nearly 500 pages of gripping intensity that sucks its reader in and leaves them reeling with wonder.  And Brom’s illustrations only add to the delight of reading it.  I highly recommend it to fans of both horror and fantasy, for it is an expert blending of both genres.


13.11–The Age of Miracles

13.11–The Age of Miracles

  

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a novel that has the potential for greatness, but is one that didn’t particularly stick out for some reason.  The premise is quite creative, and I enjoyed it, but….hmm.

Goodreads summary:

“On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life–the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.”

Julia’s journey through her preteen years, a complicated time for everyone, becomes entirely more complicated because the turn of the earth has slowed down and everyone is, first, afraid of dying and then second, trying to figure out how to adjust to days that, within months (a term that quickly loses meaning in the novel), grow to 72 hours long.  It’s an interesting premise because we take the turn of our planet and the length of our days for granted, but  Walker has thought out exactly how a slowing of the earth’s turning  might affect both nature and civilization.  None of it is very good, and Julia’s outlook is not very optimistic.  One has to admire, however, her ability to not allow it to affect her.  She is naturally a melancholy girl with few friends, and with the slowing, many people move away (though anyone with half a brain knows you can’t escape the slowing of the turning of the earth by going somewhere else, unless it’s not on earth), including her friends. As her relationships with friends and neighbors fall apart, she finds one friend–a boy–and becomes very close to him, perhaps knowing that putting things off for another day or being afraid to act on her feelings may mean dying before she has a chance to get what she wants.  Her mother, however, is a wreck, and eventually falls ill.  Poor Julia. It’s a lot to deal with at 11.

I was incredibly curious about what would happen to both Julia in her everyday life and the planet at large.  It is surprisingly difficult to revisit those years of my life that I hated. But Julia was an extremely relatable character, and I liked her, despite her somewhat dismal view of life (can she really help it?).  She is narrating the story of her adolescence from a point in the future, perhaps middle age, and tells the story as if she is foreshadowing.  “Little did we know…,” “We would soon find out…,” and various things of that nature make many appearances in the book.  For those who hate foreshadowing, I don’t recommend this book.  It was a little irritating at times, but it also made the narrator seem more present as a character than just as a first person voice with no current feelings who is describing only events and emotions from the past.  It was very different from most first person voices, and I thought it was rather creative.

For some reason, despite the fact that it’s extremely different and I really enjoyed the story, I feel like it’s one of those books I will forget I’ve read.  The details are already starting to blur in my memory.  It was good, but it didn’t have that wow factor, which disappointed me a little.  Still, I recommend it to anyone who likes smart, thought-provoking novels.  If you’re not a sci-fi fan, don’t let the premise spoil it for you.  Despite its rather fantastic nature, the plot does not read like a science-fiction book, nor is it classified as one.


12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

Laini Taylor does it again! I was hesitant about Days of Blood and Starlight because I didn’t like the way it began. I was really nervous about the theme of the book.  Where Daughter of Smoke and Bone is extremely romantic, Blood and Starlight is all about war.  It’s tough to read, absolutely fraught with emotion, and it’s definitely a nail biter.

For character, Taylor delivers.  Karou unfolds further as a character with untold layers.  It is so easy for the reader to get invested in her.  In this installment, she comes dangerously close to being broken and defeated, but pulls through to find her true self, ten times stronger and more passionate before.  With her people threatened like never before, she must stand against all the forces allied against her–forces she finds in unexpected places.  Her friend Zuzana is as irrepressible and hilarious as usual.  Her recently-acquired boyfriend adds a new element to her hilarity as well. Their banter is some of the best (and only) comic relief in this extremely heavy, war-torn novel.  And Taylor has brewed up a whole new cast of baddies for the reader to hate.  Taylor is a masterful creator of characters, and this novel is no exception.  Can someone please turn me into Karou? Give me some of her spunk? Thanks :)

For plot, I still can’t say much, because I don’t want to give anything away about this book or Smoke and Bone.  I’ll just say that it kept me on the brink of a lot of things the whole time: screaming, crying, throwing things, pulling out my hair, laughing hysterically in public, etc.  In addition to a stunning ability to create engaging characters, Taylor then sticks those characters in situations for which the reader can’t possibly dream up solutions.  She is constantly taking her reader by surprise and giving them new reasons to turn the page.

There is no end to the things I could say about Laini Taylor.  I really haven’t encountered a series I’ve felt this passionate about or affected by since The Hunger Games.  Once again, I can’t recommend this series highly enough.  I encourage everyone who doesn’t have this on their TBR list to get it on there, and those who do have it to bump it to the top. Now.

12.28–Wicked

12.28–Wicked

I revisited this one because it’s been quite a long time since I read it.  I remember sincerely loving the book, and marveling at the darkness with which Maguire writes. By the way, how gorgeous is this cover? Mine doesn’t look that good. Mine looks like this:

Not as pretty

Anyway, I don’t know how many people have read this novel, since it’s been out for years.  For those who haven’t, it tells the story of Elphaba, who is more familiar to fans of The Wizard of Oz under her identity of the Wicked Witch of the West (which I will now refer to as WWW).  In this first novel of Maguire’s, he gives the reader the backstory of the WWW, from her humble beginnings in the country of Munchkinland to her college years at Shiz to her rebellious youth in the Emerald City.  From the novel, the reader learns that Elphaba, or WWW, is not the evil villain we love to hate.  She has been misunderstood her whole life, ostracized because of her green skin, and villainized because she disagrees vocally with the Wizard’s politics.  By the time she meets Dorothy (in part four of the novel), she is middle-aged and beaten down, having suffered a lifetime of loss after loss.

I remembered virtually nothing about this novel.  In my mind it got confused with the musical, which I’ve seen twice.

It’s pretty fabulous

Because I’d forgotten the novel, I was amazed by how different the two stories are.  For one thing, the musical is optimistic. It is the touching tale of two friends that somehow manage to overcome obstacles to their friendship and also make changes for the good of Oz.  The novel, conversely, is not.  For one thing, Elphaba and Glinda do not stay friends the way they do in the musical.  There is a massive cast of characters that pass through Elphaba’s life, but their presence is always fleeting.  Maguire’s novel is also a lot more political.  There is the Wizard, who blew into Oz in a hot air balloon and deposed the reigning child queen, and who oppresses the people of Oz indiscriminately. Munchkins, Quadlings, Animals–all fall under the Wizard’s iron hand.  There is a religious group that closely resembles Christians, known as the unionists, who worship the Unnamed God and attempt with futility to convert people away from the “pleasure faith.”  In fact, Elphaba at one point joins a group that, if not extreme enough to merit the distinction of terrorists, come pretty darn close.  No, it certainly isn’t the Wizard of Oz that we know at love from novel and film.

Part of me really didn’t like reading it this time.  I still give it five stars, because it is masterfully written, is a great and engaging story, and is engrossingly creative.  But there is a hopelessness that dominates the tone of the novel, and sometimes I wasn’t in the mood to pick up such a downer.  The novel seems to hint that resistance to the status quo, to tyranny and oppression, and to evil itself, is a useless pursuit that should be abandoned so that one might have a happy life.  Maybe this is mostly true, as it seems like one person has little power to make change, but I didn’t want to read about it in every word of the novel!

Still, as I said, it is a masterful work.  Maguire has a very dry and sometimes offensive sense of humor, playing with things that one would not normally find amusing (for instance, senility in the elderly). His words are beautiful.  It is a novel that is effortlessly thoughtful, which forces the reader to contemplate their own complacency.  Maguire also creates wonderful characters.  Elphaba is, despite being prickly and somber, a character that the reader can love, though it may stem from pity.  She tries so hard to do the right thing, and it often goes wrong for her.  She is going against the whole of Oz, and one cannot help but admire her courage.  The other characters that come and go (Boq, Galinda, Fiyero, Sarima, Liir, Nessarose, and others) are, if not always fully rounded out, entertaining.  They complement each other well, and yet, simply by existing, create conflict between each other.  Their differing beliefs and ideals clash enough that very little outside strife would be necessary, though it often makes an appearance anyway.

I definitely think the novel has more value than the musical.  Don’t get me wrong. The musical is great–beautiful costumes and sets, catchy and sometimes moving songs, and an entertaining plot line.  But where the musical is fun, the novel is important.  It is a witty, dry, and entertaining commentary on the world in which we live today.  If you’re one of the last people in the world to read this novel, I recommend you get around to it soon!

Or she’ll get you


12.25–Labyrinth

12.25–Labyrinth

For those of you hoping I’d be reviewing the David Bowie movie or something along those lines, I’m sorry to disappoint you! No, this is definitely a book.

The novel jumps back and forth between 2005 southern France, and the same location in the 13th century.  Alaïs and Alice are the same person living in two entirely different times–Alaïs in the ancient past and Alice in modern France.  While volunteering at an archeological dig, Alice discovers artifacts in a cave that launch her on the path toward her destiny–a picture of a labyrinth painted on the cave wall, a stone ring, and the skeletons of two people long-deceased.  The story then takes off almost like a Dan Brown novel (a bunch of baddies going after an ancient and mystical secret and leaving a huge trail of bodies that somehow no one really notices), centered around several things, namely the quest for the Grail and the Inquisition in Europe.

In part, it was this that confused me. I didn’t particularly enjoy the novel that much, and now that I think about it, it may have been the fact that I couldn’t pin down a central focus.  The jacket text makes it seem as though it’s more about the persecution of a sect known as the Cathars in France in the 13th century, who were considered heretics by the Catholic Church and were hunted down and burned.  In reality, this is merely setting for the shadowy, secretly-embarked-upon quest for the Grail, the truth about which is known by a very small group of people.  I suppose, though, that there was too much detail about the Cathars, and it got confusing keeping track of who wanted to kill the main characters because they were heretics, and who wanted to kill them because they were the protectors of the Grail.  There was too much conflict coming from every side, and it made me go cross-eyed.

It was a decent story, but I didn’t love it.  Alaïs and the people in her time were well-written and interesting, but Alice and the modern counterparts of the people from the past were somewhat lame.  Alice herself was a bit of a bimbo, and I didn’t really feel her personality matched all of the actions she was required to take.  If it had been real life, she would have been the first to give up her secrets and die…just saying.  The bad guys, with the exception of maybe one, were also kind of…not scary.  There was no moment when I was like, “Oh no! They’ll find the Grail first!” or “Oh no, he’s actually going to kill that dude!”  It was more like, “Ok, I know exactly where this is going…” and I ended up being right.

Overall, I thought the premise and the period in history about which Mosse chose to write were interesting and unique.  I appreciated that about the novel, at least.  But the rest of it–plot, characters, believability–all fell flat for me and made it difficult to get excited about picking up the book and reading more. And those are the most important parts of the books, so that super stinks :/ Sorry guys! Hopefully the next book will be a humdinger! It’s about Doctor Who! How could it not be?

I cried when I found out he was married