31 January 2012

If Wishes Were Gavriels...We'd Visit the Dentist More Often

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 27, 2011)
Review by Laura Beutler

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.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a perfect blending of urban fantasy and fairy tale. Laini Taylor manages to take two subgenres (which have become a bit played out for me of late) and make something completely unique. I started hearing buzz about Daughter of Smoke and Bone months before its release, leading me to snatch up a copy despite my complete ignorance about the plot. I was not disappointed. In fact, I am now urging every library patron I see to check out Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It is a little bit of everything: complex, fantastic, beautiful, stark, and, quite frankly, one of the best novels of 2011.

Laini Taylor’s vivid, cinematic prose brought Karou’s home city of Prague to life so completely that I found reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone akin to watching--or living--a brilliantly-directed film. Within the first chapter, I was hooked. But really, if you can write as beautifully as Laini Taylor, you could get away with just writing a novel filled with descriptions of Prague’s streets, and I would sing its praises. Taylor goes beyond that, creating real, complex characters that lift themselves from the page and lodge in one’s imagination.

Giving a succinct summary of the plot of Daughter of Smoke and Bone has proven next to impossible. Taylor employs non-linear storytelling to great effect, jumping back and forth in time to give the reader a full grasp of Karou’s story and of the battle raging between the seraphim and the chimera. This wasn’t at all confusing, instead, it built suspense and drew me so deeply into Karou’s world that I sometimes felt my world was the imaginary one.

Here are the basics. Karou is an art student living in Prague. But she is also something much more. She works for Brimstone, who collects teeth and, in exchange, provides people with wishes. Wishes that come true. That's right. Give Brimstone teeth, he gives you wishes. Kinda gives going to the dentist a whole new meaning... In fact, wishes are used as currency, from the tiny scuppies Karou wears on a necklace to saucer-sized gold gavriels. Brimstone is a chimera, which is to say, he is made up of seemingly incongruous parts of various animals, blended seamlessly. Brimstone, along with fellow chimera Issa and Kishmish, make up the only family Karou has ever known. Then she meets up with Akiva, who is gorgeous in an extremely-deadly sort of way, and her loyalties are challenged in more ways than one.

Yes, that’s all you get. Spoilers...

Karou has all the qualities that make up a great female protagonist. She’s strong, brave, loyal, intelligent, and dedicated...but she’s also impulsive, at times fearful, and devastatingly curious. Her curiosity resonated most with me. As I craved further knowledge of the chimera world, so did Karou. And Karou isn’t invincible, which is fantastic. Too many fantasy novels have protagonists that can dodge bullets and survive unscathed through explosions and magical attacks and what-have-you. That isn’t Karou. She has to be very careful of the criminals she comes in contact with--and sometimes, careful isn’t good enough.

Easily my favorite parts of the book were in Taylor’s descriptions of people and places, such as the enormous puppet Karou’s friend Zuzana creates as an art project, or the streets of Marakesh. I found myself thinking, “This part would be PERFECT in a film, or an anime, like Howl’s Moving Castle!” And if I’m holding something up to Howl’s Moving Castle, you know it’s good. More than good, it’s worthy.

For a while, I lived the book, and it was all-consuming. I neglected my friends, my family, odd library patrons. I detested interruptions, like sleep. It really is fortunate that I read as quickly as I do, because a person does need to eat once and a while, something I forgot altogether while I read this book. And yes, it was worth it. I doubt I’m the only person affected this way. Seriously--try reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone without thinking over what wish you would choose if Brimstone offered you one. Go ahead. You won’t make it past the first twenty pages.

MY wish would be for the second book. Now. This instant. Too bad I don’t have any gavriels.

17 January 2012

The Future is Now

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Macker (November 21, 2011, Razorbill)
Review by Kelly Lucas

ATTENTION 80's [and early 90’s] BABIES*: You need to read this book.

It's 1996 and Emma just got a computer (with Windows '95!). Josh, Emma’s best friend and the boy next door, gets a CD for an AOL trial. They put the CD in the computer and Facebook of 2011 pops up on the screen. With their future lives.

I put this book on my Christmas list without even knowing what it was about because I adore Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. That never happens. I always know. I was very excited Christmas morning, but still didn't know what it was about. I read the back cover and was hooked. I love books that play with time**. I started reading that day and couldn't put it down.

Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler do a wonderful job putting you in 1996. It's a huge part of the book. Emma listens to Dave Matthews on her Walkman [remember those?] and only the rich, popular girl has a cell phone. If you start to forget that you are in 1996, Asher and Mackler add a reference to remind you. I was only 7 in 1996, I don’t remember much, but I remember my friends getting their first computers and dialing into AOL. I didn’t just love the references made throughout the book. I loved how Asher and Mackler depicted the lifestyle of 1996 so well. Emma, Josh and their friends didn’t focus on being online or on their cell phones all the time, but called each other on their house phones and went out to bonfires. Josh, like many teenagers in the 90’s, was a big skateboarder and Emma runs after school. It was life without the Internet. Remember that?

Lately, I feel like I have to read fifty pages to get into the core of the book. Not with The Future of Us. Asher and Mackler didn’t keep me waiting and within pages, Josh is bringing Emma the AOL CD. Emma installs it that night to find Facebook on her screen moments later. I was hooked from page one and did not want to put it down. When I finished, I turned the page and saw the next page blank. I freaked out. I wasn’t done, yet! Don’t get me wrong, I loved the ending. I just wanted more from Asher and Mackler!

While I love Jay Asher and 13 Reasons Why, I have never been a fan of Carolyn Mackler. Jay’s writing of Josh was just like Clay from 13 Reasons Why - so real. You couldn’t help but fall for Josh and be on his side, to keep going on with their lives and forget the future Facebook predicted. I was less than amused with Emma. Honestly, she annoyed me. Facebook sucked her in and she became obsessed. She was so over-concerned with how her life turned out that she was starting forget to live in the moment. I immediately saw myself and my obsession with Facebook in her, and it scared me. I didn’t want to forget to live in the moment.

If there’s one thing I took from this fantastic novel, it’s that we can spend too much time time online, worrying about people who we don’t really talk to in real life. Since reading this book, I’ve taken a step back from Facebook. Unlike Twitter, I feel fake on Facebook, putting my status up for the world to see. Yet, it’s not for them, it’s for me. On Twitter, my followers follow me because they want to hear what I have to say. Twitter comes into the real world with me as I work, study and play; Facebook is a distraction.

So thank you Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, you didn’t just give me a great book, but part of my life back.

*But really, everyone should read this book.
**Time lords are cool.