Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: A Monster Calls

Rating Clarification: 5 out of 5
Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both. 
I am not a strong person. When I read a book—a truly amazing book—I can put myself in the characters’ position, even if I have absolutely nothing in common with them because the truth is, with a really amazing book, an author can make you experience things as if you were inside that character’s head. There have been several books that have made me shed a tear or two, but it is a rare thing for me to find a book that moves me to unabashed weeping, the kind of crying that makes my husband wonder if there is something wrong with me. And honestly, there is something very wrong with me because when I’m at this weeping, tear-stained-cheek point, there is no going back.

A Monster Calls is that book I’ve heard so much about, but never really thought it could be as good as everyone said it was. After all, when something is put on such a high pedestal, it almost always fails for me, so I went into this story with my expectations in check.

This book commanded my full attention and even as I struggled to read through the tears, I couldn’t put it down. The writing is beyond beautiful and the relationships between the characters were so completely real. I felt like I really knew Conor, that I’d known him for years.

A little background about me: Twelve years ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in seventh grade. Now, I noticed that she seemed tired more often, but I didn’t really think much of it. It wasn’t until she was starting her chemotherapy that my parents told me about it. They said they didn’t want me to worry, but all I could think was, “What if she’d died, and I never got the chance to say goodbye?” She has been in remission for almost ten years, but I can’t help thinking how much it hurt that they thought I couldn’t handle knowing the truth.

A Monster Calls was a very personal book for me, and perhaps that’s part of the reason I couldn’t keep my tears in, but I suspect a large part of it has to do with Ness’s spectacular story-telling prowess. This is a book I think everyone should read, and not just for the story itself, but for gaining a new perspective on life. Bad things happen, and there’s often not much we can do to stop them. All we can control is how we react to them.

I hope everyone will give this book a try because it’s not just the beautiful writing or the compelling characters; it’s the story itself, it’s the journey from complete despair to a glimmer of hope.



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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Rating Clarification: 5 out of 5

Zuzana looked back and saw the expression that Karou sometimes got when she thought no one was watching. It was sadness, lostness, and the worst thing about it was the way it seemed like a default—like it was there all the time, and all her other expressions were just an array of masks used to cover it up.

 
It is rare to come across something that is as stunningly beautiful as it is eerie and complex. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
is all that and more. I picked this book up mostly because of all the positive ratings I’d seen around Goodreads.

Taylor has woven a fantastic and tragic love story with unique characters and utterly amazing writing. Even through the use of third person narrative, I was able to fully connect with Karou, Akiva, and Madrigal. When they felt pain, I wept with them. When they were in bliss, I couldn’t stop smiling like a fool.

The mythology Taylor created in Daughter of Smoke and Bone is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Yes, I’ve heard of chimaera and the seraphim, but not in the way they relate to each other in this book.

I loved that both races had their own creation myth, and that we got to experience both of them. I’m a bit partial to the chimaeran myth myself, though both are lovely and terrifying in their own ways.

Karou is a very complex character. She is strong and—for the most part—independent. Yet she still feels the need to be loved and held, just like most people do. She does not let her attraction to boys completely overwhelm every aspect of her life. I rooted for her the entire time, and I cannot possibly imagine having to go through what she’s been through. Never once does she let the things in her life turn her into an angst-ridden, damsel in distress. She can handle herself, and she does so with grace and humility.

Experiences shape the person you become. Madrigal is fierce, but she believes in goodness. She has a world of goodness inside her, and she has an optimistic—without being na├»ve—view of how things could be. Even in the face of true terror, she does not show weakness.

For me, Akiva was a bit of an enigma. As soon as I thought I was starting to understand him, he would do something to confuse me. His story is one of loss and vengeance and redemption and hope and love. Akiva manages to be flawed in such a way that, not only does he feel completely real, but he makes me want to try and hug away all his problems.

I absolutely love Zuzana. She’s a really great friend to Karou, and she has her own issues and Karou actually cares for what’s going on with her. Their friendship is real and organic and it grows throughout the story. I really hope to see more of her in the sequel.

What to say about Kaz? First, I know I should probably hate him, and he’s definitely not on my list of favorite characters, but there’s something there, something on the fringes about him that I can’t quite put my finger on. I have a feeling he might show up in the sequel. At least, I think it would be interesting to see a little more of him.

Brimstone is complex in a way that I’ve never seen before. There were times when I thought he was very much like a father-figure and times when I wondered if he even cared for Karou at all. There isn’t much more I can say about Brimstone without spoilers.

The world-building is precise, down to the hierarchy of wishes. I especially like that, in Laini’s world, there has to be a balance in life, and it’s refreshing to see that she’s included shown this. I’m downright envious of Taylor’s prose and the magic with which she weaves this tale.

While I truly love this book, there is one thing that kind of stuck out to me. I hesitate to call it insta-love, and those who have read this book might know what I’m saying. There is an intensity between Karou and Akiva, and it does seem to bloom rather quickly; however I felt their connection was sufficiently explained in the end.

I believe wholeheartedly that everyone should give this book a try. It will change your view on everything in the YA world.

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