Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

publication date: 2011
pages (ebook): 318
ISBN: 978-0-316-19214-9

I rarely intend to read a YA series. Instead, I often stumble upon them, as I stumbled upon Daughter of Smoke & Bone. I had a list of library books I wanted to read, but I was too lazy to go to the library so I browsed their new ebooks. One of the ebooks was this one. Because of the plot description, I figured it might be a good diversion for an evening, so I checked it out. Instead of being a “diversion,” it turned into a life-pausing event. Even if I don’t like a YA series that much, such as Beautiful Creatures, I always stay up too late reading it, spend too much money on ebooks, and neglect any and all duties until the series is done. The Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy was no exception.

In this book we meet Karou, a Czech artist living and working in Prague. We soon learn that Karou isn’t strictly normal; instead she can make her wishes actually come true and is routinely sent around the world by her employer to collect – of all things – teeth. Karou soon crosses paths with a beautiful young man named Akiva. And the rest of the story can be neatly summed up by the book’s epigraph: “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”

One of the reasons I was not intending to read another YA series just yet is because I’m getting tired of the Magnetic Pull between the primary male and primary female character in a YA book. It goes something like this: Our young heroine, Aberdeen, rounds a corner and stumbles right into the swashbuckling Crawford. Startled (and probably antagonistic), they look into each others’ eyes and have never seen anything so attractive. For the rest of the series, they dance around each other and experience things like this:

[Akiva knew] being near [Karou] was like balancing on a tipping world, trying to keep your footing as the ground wanted to roll you forward, hurl you into a spiral from which there was no recovery, only impact, and it was a longed-for impact, a sweet and beckoning collision.

I’m in the mood for a book that is still interesting, and sexy, but leaves behind all this ardent, “love-and-lust-are-inevitable” stuff. Don’t get me wrong, this romance was compelling; I just knew where I was being herded the entire time.

Taylor has a punchy, witty writing style and her characters are imbued with passion and brightness. She also creates some exciting fantasy, while still being aware of just how fantastical the whole thing is. For example, one character admonishes Karou that “You are not just going to vanish like this, Karou. This isn’t some goddamn Narnia book.”

Daughter of Smoke & Bone is one of the better YA series, but it is a YA series nonetheless, with all the attendant cliches, tumults, and disappointments.

4/6: worth reading

Other reviews of the book:

New York Times
Entertainment Weekly
Oh, Chrys

Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth

publication date: 2011
pages: 425 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-06-202402-2

Well, guys, I made a big mistake. I read the entirety of this series before I wrote the review for the first book: Divergent. And of course that completely colored my thoughts on the first book. With that in mind, I will try to keep this review as uninfected and focused as possible. Except for this one remark: don’t feel the need to finish the book series; if you want to, be my guest, but it is certainly not necessary. In fact, it would not be misguided to only read the first book and create your own ending.

The Divergent series is the next big thing in YA fiction, with a movie coming out soon. The book is set in a future dystopian Chicago, where everyone is separated into five “factions” based on one personality trait. The main character, Tris, was born into the Abnegation faction, which most values the characteristic of selflessness. The other factions are Candor, Erudite, Amity, and Dauntless. At the beginning of the book, a teenage Tris, along with other students her age, must choose the faction she wants to be associated with for life. As the consequences of her decision unfolded, she also discovered that the factions’ leaders were not as uncorrupted and honest as she believed.

For readers who enjoy YA fiction, Divergent had a lot to offer. First, the book featured an interesting and unconventional main character. Tris was legitimately unpleasant and even unlikable. She was still the hero of the story and of course I still rooted for her, but the author exposed Tris’s faults and included several scenes where Tris was not brave or nice or lovely or everything a main character in YA is supposed to be. Additionally, the book contained one of the most refreshing YA passages I have read. Commonly in YA fiction, the main female character thinks she is unattractive or insufficiently attractive; Divergent was no exception. However, unconventionally, the other characters in Divergent agreed. At one point, Tris and a young man have this conversation:

“Don’t pretend,” I [Tris] say breathily. “You know I’m not [pretty]. I’m not ugly, but I am certainly not pretty.”
“Fine. You’re not pretty. So?”

I also enjoyed the stark and simple tone of the book. Roth did not include a lot of flowery or figurative language. It reminded me of Cormac McCarthy in that way.

Maybe its just because I’ve read a lot of YA fiction lately, but sometimes I found the book boring or tiresome. The romance scenes between Tris and Four especially seemed forced, although Four was a compelling character on his own. Additionally, there were some pacing issues, and scenes and plot lines would begin and end suddenly.

4/6: worth reading (not the rest of the series though!)

Some other reviews:

New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
The Book Smugglers

Minutes Before Sunset

I want to give you all a heads up that the novel for this book review, Minutes Before Sunset, was given to me by the author, who approached me to review it. Although I had not heard of Shannon A. Thompson, or the book, before she emailed me, my opinions expressed here are not colored by how I received the book. Also, after the review is an interview I conducted with Thompson. I hope you enjoy!

Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson

publication date: 2013
pages: 247
ISBN: 9780615788128

When I was introduced to Minutes Before Sunset, I was also introduced to the nomenclature that described its genre: paranormal romance. I had never heard that term before, but I had already enjoyed numerous books from that genre, the most famous of which are probably Twilight and The Mortal Instruments.

Minutes Before Sunset is a wonderful addition to the genre, as it has all the trappings of the category. It is filled with imaginative characters, teen angst, teen romance, an intriguing plot, and parents who just don’t understand. The book begins with Eric, who has lived his whole life as a Shade, a soldier of the Dark. Eric is destined for greatness among the Dark, but at what cost? Later, we meet Jess, an ordinary human girl who wants to discover her past.

The plot description sounds vague, but that’s because I don’t want to give anything away. The plot was such a fun part of the book and so was Thompson’s presentation of it. Thompson had a wonderful grasp of what I call the “knowledge trickle.” The knowledge trickle is the pacing, frequency, and tone in which an author reveals any plot or character secrets. Minutes Before Sunset had an excellent knowledge trickle. I was always intrigued, although never confused, by the plot, and there was continually something just around the corner that I wanted to know.

I also enjoyed Thompson’s characters. They were full of teenage spirit and curiosity, without being too precocious or angst-ridden. Also, the dialogue was vivid and well-formed; just clever enough to be interesting, but not so clever as to be heavy-handed or unrealistic. Jess, especially, had some great lines. One of the most well-crafted elements of the book, however, was the narrators. The book started from Eric’s point-of-view, which was aptly written by Thompson. The point-of-view periodically shifted to Jess, however. Sometimes shifting narrators can be gimmicky or pointless, but not with Minutes Before Sunset. The voices were distinct enough that I never got confused and the changing viewpoints gave me insights into the characters. Also, I love love love when authors show you the same scene through two different characters’ eyes, and Thompson did that a few times.

The book was not perfect, however; Thompson’s writing was sometimes unpolished. Her word choice was occasionally puzzling. Additionally, I was confused by some scenes, because I didn’t understand their significance. Finally, the fluidity and pacing of the book was often disjointed.

That said, if you like this genre, you should give this book a read.

4/6: worth reading

Readers reviewed this book on goodreads

And, as promised, here is the interview:

The Book Babblette:  Please, Shannon, introduce yourself!

Shannon A. Thompson:  Well, my name is Shannon A. Thompson, and I first realized I wanted to seriously pursue publication after my mother’s sudden death when I was 11.  Five years later, I was published at 16, and I haven’t stopped since.  I now have two novels, a short story, and poetry published, and my next novel releases March 27.

BB:  Was your mother an author?

ST:  She always wanted to be one, but she never pursued publication.  She was a writer, and she taught me how to write after I fell in love with reading.

BB:  Do you think you picked up any writing habits you may have from her?

ST:  Definitely!  She originally encouraged me to write in order to cope with my night terrors and nightmares, so most of my novels are based on my dreams at some point.  She’s a huge influence in my writing life.

BB:  Wow night terrors!  Do you still get those?

ST:  Actually, I do.  I never really grew out of them.  I sleepwalk and other things as well.  But generally only when I move or I’m under high amounts of stress.  I’ve learned to deal with it though, so it doesn’t bother me anymore.  In fact, I rather enjoy the inspiration I receive afterward.

BB:  I actually get night terrors sometimes.  I love that you turn them in to a positive.  You mentioned your dreams influence your writing, what are some other influences?

ST:  Yeah, [night terrors] can definitely be scary, especially if you don’t take precautions.  I had to have wraps around my bunk bed in college (I slept on the bottom.)  The wraps prevented me from hitting my head in my sleep.

I believe I am inspired by everything around me.  I love photography, so that’s probably my second main inspiration.  Psychology is another big one.  Meeting and talking with new people is also a great way to challenge myself to understand more types of people, cultures, and situations that I can interpret into my writing while also learning more about life.

BB:  Do you read a lot of psychology books or take courses?

ST:  I was originally a double major of English and Psychology, but I ultimately decided English was my path.  I read a lot of medical journals for recent studies that have been done.  I find people fascinating.

BB:  People are fascinating!  I think a Psychology influence reveals itself in Minutes Before Sunset.  And, of course, dreams play a prominent role.

ST:  Yes, they do.  I am excited for book 2 — Seconds Before Sunrise — because I was able to incorporate some of the exact dreams that I had into the storyline through Jessica’s eyes.  I wrote about one here: My Dreams: Seconds Before Sunrise on Goodreads & Extras.

BB:  What was your favorite chapter or scene to write in Minutes Before Sunset?

ST:  My favorite scene to write in Minutes Before Sunset was the bat scene, which is on pages 206-207.  Although many reasons made me love this scene, the ultimate deciding factor was that the scene is based on a real life moment I had during the time in my life that I was writing these novels.  You can read more details about it here:  Kygrabowski.wordpress.com.

BB:  That scene was certainly vivid.  It doesn’t surprise me that it was based on real life.

How did you choose the genre for Minutes Before Sunset?

ST:  I wrote it without worrying about the genre, but I think the story itself chose the genre.  Although it’s a paranormal romance, many would call it an urban fantasy, but I think the romance factor is what defined that in the end.  In terms of young-adult, the themes were important.  Coming-of-age is as relevant as finding an identity, and I feel like young-adult books often revolve around that since young adults are trying to find themselves.

BB:  I hadn’t thought of it as an “urban fantasy” book before.  I like that — it fits the book very well.  Will Seconds Before Sunrise contain similar themes?

ST:  Yes.  The entire trilogy revolves around three major themes: dark vs. light, fate vs. choice, and identity.  However, each novel in the trilogy has a focused plot.  The first novel is about the Dark, the second is about being a human, and the third exposes the Light.

BB:  Who are some actors you could imagine playing your characters in this series?

ST:  If any of my novels became a movie, I would hope for an open casting call.  I would want to give new faces a chance.

BB:  I kind of imagine a young River Phoenix playing Eric!  What are some things you like to do when you’re not writing?

ST:  I could see that!  I love reading and journaling, but I also enjoy traveling when I can.  If I get a new camera, I want to dive back into photography.  And I also love spending time with my family, including my cat, Bogart.

BB:  Is the cat named after Humphrey?

ST:  Yes!  Humphrey Bogart is my favorite actor.  I have all of his movies, but Casablanca is my favorite, soon followed by Sabrina.

BB:  Those are both great movies.  African Queen is in my top ten all-time.  Those are all the questions I have, is there anything you would like to add?

ST:  I have a website where I keep everyone up-to-date on my publishing news, but I also share my writing, editing, and publishing tips.  I love to connect. http://shannonathompson.com.

BB:  Thanks very much, Shannon.

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

publication date: 2007
pages: 504 (e-reader edition)
ISBN: 978-1-4169-9575-3

It was this Tumblr post that finally convinced me to read City of Bones, the first book in the Mortal Instruments series. The author of the post really sold me on the book’s complex and detailed world and its engaging characters. After reading it, I’m infinitely glad I did.

City of Bones begins with Clary and her friend, Simon, going out to a seemingly normal club after a seemingly normal day. While at the club, Clary spots Jace, Alec, and Isabelle. Commonplace enough, except Clary is the only one who can see them. Clary follows the three out of the club and so starts her odyssey into the hidden world of Shadowhunters. Clary accompanies Jace, Alec, and Isabelle as they confront demons and devils that live in our midst. A love story develops, of course; this is YA fiction after all.

As described in the Tumblr post, Cassandra Clare creates an exhaustive other world that could be perfectly adapted to the big screen. She imbues the world of the Shadowhunters with plausibility and makes you wonder if maybe, just maybe, people like Jace, Alec, and Isabelle really do exist. Clare also superbly crafts tension and relationships between characters. The book deliciously contains sexual tension between two characters dozens of pages before the tension is acted on. Additionally, the relationship between Jace and his dead father is impressively constructed. In fact, the characters themselves are generally likable or interesting. I loved how Clary wasn’t just another female character who falls head-over-heels in love with someone. Instead, Clary is usually stubborn, defiant, and empowered. However, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Clare’s writing is her ability to incorporate not one, but two, of the best plot twists I’ve read this year.

Still, Clare’s writing in not perfect. For example, she starts a chapter with this clunker: “The weapons room looked exactly the way something called ‘the weapons room’ sounded like it would look.” Additionally, the book contains numerous cliches: a clumsy heroine, absent fathers, allusions to – but not actual – cursing (a retort muttered by Alec “sounded a lot more like ‘ducking glass mole’”), and the ever-present simile comparing a young woman’s skin with a bowl of cream.

City of Bones introduces fun characters in an engaging plot with an ending that makes you want to read the next one, which I did. In fact, I read the next five! To anyone who liked Twilight, or even Harry Potter, you will find something to enjoy in the Mortal Instruments series.

5/6: seek this book out

other reviews:

Love Vampires
A Librarian’s Library
The Guardian

The Host

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

pages: 578 (including back matter)
publication date: 2008
ISBN: 978-0-316-12865-0

When I realized that Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight saga, had written another book, I went directly to amazon.com to preview the book. I got about one paragraph into the preview and I read this sentence: “With the truest instinct of my kind, I’d bound myself securely into the body’s center of thought, twined myself inescapably into its every breath and reflex until it was no longer a separate entity. It was me.” Oh my gosh, I thought, it’s just Yeerks; this book is just Twilight but with Yeerks. Immediately, I stopped previewing because I knew I would have to read The Host in its entirety.

And although The Host was not as good as either Twilight or Animorphs, it did share many of the same themes. Themes of love and identity, good and evil, although on a much smaller scale than the other two series. The book begins on Earth in the future, after parasitic creatures known as “souls” have taken over Earth except for a few rebel groups of humans. Wanderer, a soul, is implanted in a young rebel woman, Melanie. When Melanie was captured by the souls, she left behind her brother, Jamie, and a young man, Jared. Because Melanie has people to fight for, she resists Wanderer’s attempts to fully assimilate into Melanie’s body. As Melanie’s consciousness and emotions become more and more prominent, Wanderer begins to sympathize with her. Eventually, Melanie convinces Wanderer to go search for the remaining humans, including Jamie and Jared. And, because this book was written by Stephenie Meyer, a love triangle develops.

The best parts of the book were when Meyer used the interesting plot line to write curious passages about identity and the self. There are entire scenes where Wanderer and Melanie first share a single consciousness, only for it to splinter apart and then shift between Wanderer and Melanie. And all this from Wanderer’s point of view. If I specified much further, I would give some plot lines away, but, as a small example, at one point, Wanderer, in Melanie’s body, states, “I remembered what it felt like to vomit, though I never had.”

Additionally, Meyer was able to create some very compelling suspense. I worried about how Wanderer and Melanie could both survive, how they both could live with their respective love interests, whether the souls would find the rebel humans, whether the various rebel attacks against the souls would succeed and almost every other plot line Meyer concocted. The only aspect of The Host that was not compelling was the love triangle, because it was formulaic and predictable.

The Host also shares some of the failings of the Twilight saga. For example, Wanderer/Melanie is constantly and unnecessarily getting carried by men, often as she is telling them “no.” Additionally, Wanderer encounters not a single black person – not a single one through 561 pages of story. But for all her faults, Meyer, in The Host and the Twilight saga, knows how to craft a good story.

4/6: worth reading

Some other reviews of the book:

Entertainment Weekly
The Guardian
The Obsessive Reader