My 2020 Five Star Predictions: How did they hold up?

In January, I dared to make some five star predictions about books that I thought I would end up loving. This was brave insofar as I often don’t even read the books I plan to, despite having an entire year to do it. But I did surprisingly well, not only in reading the books but also in predicting my own rating. Not all my predictions turned into five-star-reads, but they were all books I enjoyed.

5 STARS: Rivers Solomon – An Unkindness of Ghosts

So much yes! This was the book I was most unsure about so it made me even happier that it blew me away from the very start. Rivers Solomon is such an inriguing writer. They create vivid characters, do worldbuilding effortlessly, and manage to deal with a myriad of topics all while telling an engaging story. This generation ship story has so many layers and one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve ever read. Go pick it up!

4-ish STARS: Mishell Baker – Impstor Syndrome

This might have been a five star book, had I read it sooner. Waiting as long as I did between books 2 and 3 was definitely a mistake. It took me a long time to figure out who was who and what had happened before so my enjoyment was delayed for at least a third of the book. Then my mood may also have contributed to this only being a good read, not a great one.
I still wholeheartedly recommend this trilogy, however, only with the caveat that you read them closer together than I did. The first two books were standout novels which both got five stars from me. This one ended up with four-ish.

5 STARS: Laini Taylor – Muse of Nightmares

I have to admit, I was worried for a second, that this would “only” turn out to be a four-star-read. The beginning of the book takes its time, re-establishing the events of the first book, letting readers get back into the world, but once the plot kicks off, it goes non-stop until the end. And yes, this did end up getting five stars from me because this book was so close to perfect, it broke my heart. I was constantly close to tears, I cared so much about the characters, and I couldn’t see any way for the story to end well. I’m not telling you how it did end, but whether good or bad or bittersweet, the ending was satisfying and fitting. I love it and I want more Laini Taylor NOW!

5 STARS: N. K. Jemisin – The Stone Sky

Oooooh, how daring of me, predicting I will love an N. K. Jemisin novel… I admit, I was playing it rather safe, both with Laini Taylor and N. K. Jemisin, but this was the book I was most certain would end up getting 5 stars. And it did.
I did take a while to find back into the world of the Broken Earth but by the time I had remembered all the little world building tidbits from the previous books, I was highly engaged again and hoped along with Essun, Nassun, and the others that there would be a way to save the world and themselves. The ending was such a beautiful thing, bittersweet and magical and bringing all the elements together. I can say very little without spoiling but this trilogy is simply mindblowing and deserving of all its Hugo Awards.

??? STARS: Marlon James – Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Here’s the outlier. I have read exactly 50% of this book and found it highly interesting and immersive. But the world James set up isn’t exactly a happy place and the characters are complicated beings whose motives aren’t immediately understood. Plus, the plot is difficult to follow, the language is demanding, and just everything about this book makes it a Hard Read.
Now, I’m always up for a challenge and I plan to finish this book eventually. It may even still turn into a five star read but only if I pick it up at the right time. Pushing myself to finish it just so I can say I did will not help my enjoyment. So I’m waiting until the mood strikes to dive back into this African-inspired dark tale of mythical beings, kidnapped children, mysteries and magic.

And that’s it! This little experiment was actually a lot more fun than I thought so I’m now going to prepare the next round. For 2021, I’ll be a little more daring and even choose books by authors I don’t already know. After all, it’s easy to predict a five-star-read from a favorite author.

Best of 2020: My Favorite Books of the Year

What a year this has been. At times it felt like we fell into an actual science fiction novel. We lived (and are still living) through a pandemic, the US answered the murder of George Floyd and many others by protesting against police brutality and a broken system, the US also elected a new president, there was a terrorist attack on my city, my partner lost three family members, and we spent most of the year working from home, isolated from friends and family, and trying to keep it together somehow.

But 2020 also had its good sides and I think it’s important that we keep reminding ourselves and each other of that. People came together while staying apart in a multitude of creative ways, they stood together against violence, they used their democratic right to vote, we support and lift each other up, and those of us who are readers found solace in our hobby and the fantastical worlds into which it lets us escape.

I have read so many amazing books this year. Award season will be a horror show because how can anyone pick one favorite among so many brilliant, original, heartbreaking works? As every year, a few books stood out… except this year “a few” is a higher number than usual. This list will be rather long but it’s not my fault authors published such exceptional stories this year.


Favorite Books Published in 2020

Novels

This year has been phenomenal when it comes to SFF novels (even if everything else was pretty terrible). Granted, there are still many 2020 publications I haven’t read yet but out of the ones I have read, there was just a single one that I think of as merely good. All the rest were stellar and make me dread Hugo nomination time. Which ones do I leave off my ballot?

 

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin is an obvious choice. Jemisin has been producing brilliant work for years and although this is her first foray into Urban Fantasy, I knew I would love it. I just didn’t know how much. When the city of New York comes to life through avatars of its burroughs, they have to come together to fight an ancient evil. That may sound simple, but  Jemisin’s way of painting the city as a living, breathing entity, turns this into a proper adventure with diverse characters, lots of social commentary, and – as always – great writing.

Alix E. Harrow‘s latest novel The Once and Future Witches took me a while to get into. Its three protagonist sisters had too many POV jumps for my taste, but Harrow found her rhythm eventuall and delivered a beautiful, heartwarming tale of sisterhood, the fight for women’s rights, and witchcraft. A love of stories and fairy tales and women working together permeates this whole book. And the way the characters are allowed to grow just made me warm and fuzzy inside. I may have started sceptical but I ended up adoring this book.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is the author’s long-awaited second novel after the mind-blowing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell although it has nothing to do with that book. Piranesi lives in a labyrinth of halls, lined with statues. This book is best read without knowing anything about it because it is a riddle and a mystery, poetically told, with a twist along the way. This is clearly an accomplished, amazing short novel but the emotional resonance is definitely fading over time.

The First Sister by debut author Linden A. Lewis wasn’t a perfect book. There were some character and plot aspects that could have been done better, but ultimately, I just enjoyed reading this so very much that I mostly ignored the things that didn’t make sense. An interstellar war between Gaeans and Icarii (Earth/Mercury people and Venus/Mars people) is shown through three POVs, who are all intriguing and face very big problems. Points for diversity (including the nonbinary audiobook narrator for the nonbinary POV character) as well as setting up a world I want to return to.

Another debut was The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. This multiverse story delivers plot twist after plot twist while we follow protagonist Cara as she visits neighbouring universes that are similar to ours but not quite the same. Her lower class status and her unrequited love for her superior doesn’t help but over the course of a very exciting Mad Max-esque plot, it’s wonderful to watch Cara grow and find her place in the world(s).

I’m so glad I loved Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia. I was in the minority finding her Gods of Jade and Shadow only okay but now I can finally join all the other fans in squeeing about her foray into gothic horror. Set in 1950s Mexico, Noemí visits the isolated house where her cousin lives with her husband. Needless to say, strange things happen there and the family is anything but welcoming. I loved the atmosphere and the setting, Noemí’s character growth and the slow burn romance… Seriously, everything about this book was amazing and I highly recommend it for someone looking for a spooky read that offers more than just scary moments or monsters.

Is anyone surprised that Martha Wells’ Network Effect made this list? No? Didn’t think so. It’s the first full length Murderbot novel and while you get much of the same stuff we’ve come to expect and love from a Murderbot story, this one goes deeper. I particularly enjoyed Murderbot’s voice and its reunion with ART. What really made this into a favorite was the tender moments between Murderbot and its humans or even Murderbot and other AI characters. As much as it’s not human, it is through its humanity that we connect to Murderbot and care for it.


Young Adult/Middle Grade

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko is the kind of YA debut that every YA author should aspire to write. It defies the tropes I find annoying and plays with the ones I like. Young Tarisai has been raised by her mother who is only called the Lady, and she has been raised for one purpose only: To get close to the prince and then kill him. But Tarisai finds the prince totally nice and doesn’t want to kill a kid. The premise makes you assume certain things (romance between her and the prince, magical solution to this “you have to kill him” problem, etc.) but let me tell you that you will not see anything coming. Ifueko plays with the readers’ expectations, throws in a lovely found family, beautiful world building and an ending that promises an even more epic sequel.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson seems to be a divisive book. I wouldn’t have thought I’d like a witchy story set in a puritanical village at all, but Henderson’s story telling is so engaging and her protagonist so easy to like that I couldn’t put it down. For a debut novel especially, I was impressed with the way relationships between the characters were portrayed. I’m not a big romance reader either, but I adored watching the people in this book come together slowly and bond over important things. There’s none of the cheap YA tropes here. Plus, the witches are properly scary and the curses Immanuelle has to deal with are pretty gruesome. A perfect Halloween read.


Novellas

The standout novella for me this year is P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout, a book that immediately grabbed me, kept me engaged and entertained throughout, and has a powerful story to tell. I was all the more impressed with how fleshed-out the characters were and how much world building was put into such a slim volume. Clark is definitely an author to watch and I hope this novella gets him a Hugo Award.

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings is Australian Gothic and captured me with its tark fairy tale vibe. Ignore that first over-the-top flowery chapter and just roll with it. You’ll get a tale of interconnected stories that seem very weird at first but all make sense in the end. This was an incredibly atmospheric read that shows how Jennings is not only a great illustrator but also a writer that I’m going to watch.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo doesn’t need any more recommendations. Everyone who’s read it loved it and for good reason. The way Vo chose to tell this story – in sort of flashbacks inspired by objects – is one reason it was so good. But the actual story it tells is also breathtaking. The plot itself isn’t all that epic but it makes you think about how we deal with history, whose stories get told (and whose should get told) and what happens to the people on the sidelines of a war.


Favorite Audiobooks

I swear it is a coincidence that all my favorite audiobooks of the year are written and narrated by Black authors and narrators. I didn’t even realize it until I listed them up here. My challenge to read more Black authors definitely contributed to me picking these books up, but this is where I want to share the amazing work narrators did with these stories.

N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became was one of my top books of the year but the audiobook turned it into something else. Not only does Robin Miles do a brilliant job when it comes to different voices and conveying emotions, but this audiobook also has a few sound effects and music mixed in. Don’t worry, it only happens occasionally but it did help me get immersed in the story. I would have loved this as a paper book as well but if you’re still unsure which version to go with, definitely pick up the audiobook.

In The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson, we follow three very different female characters living in very different time periods and settings. I never thought I would love this book as much as I did but I should have known better. Hopkinson effortlessly weaves magic and Caribbean myth into her tale, and there’s even a real historical figure in this one. Bahni Turpin switches characters beautifully, which includes accents and timbre, and really helped paint a picture of this story in my mind.

Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts is a challenging book for any narrator to do but Cherise Boothe did a brilliant job. Nnot only does she have to switch between characters of different genders, protagonist Aster is also neurodiverse and thus delivers certain lines in a manner that seems almost cold to other people. Yet Boothe managed to make Aster lovable while maintaining her speech pattern. It’s also just a great story.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson is a difficult book to follow because of its jumping around in time. Not having a paper book to read along makes this even harder, but Bayo Gbadamosi did his very best to help us keep the timelines and characters straight. This very different alien “invasion” story may not have the most likable lead character but I found it enthralling from beginning to end and I can’t wait to find out how the trilogy ends.


Favorite Books Published pre-2020

Without a doubt, the three books that touched me the most in 2020 were Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I’m noticing a concerning similarity in my favorite books this year. Almost all of them managed to make me cry…

I read Doomsday Book right whent he first lockdown started in Austria and when it hit home all around the world that this pandemic was, indeed, a global thing that meant nothing would be as it was before. The book is about an incredibly realistic epidemic (I could literally compare the fictional government’s reaction to real world goverments) as well as the plague. Time-travelling historian Kivrin visits the Middle Ages but things don’t go exactly as planned. Connie Willis made me fall in love with her characters only to put them through hell. At the same time, she shows the best of humanity and the reason there is always hope. I cried a lot reading this book.

The Sparrow was something else entirely. A first-contact story that sends Jesuit priests and scientists to an alien planet in order to find the creatures whose singing has been received on Earth. This beautiful tale of a found family sets you up for disaster right from the start. Told in two time lines, you follow the mission itself as well as its aftermath through the eyes of sole survivor Emilio Sandoz. I’ll be honest, I felt like crying throughout the entire book because it’s just got that tone to it. But by the end I thought I had prepared myself for certain things. I was not prepared. This story had me sobbing by the end and left me with a massive book hangover.

Much more hopeful, albeit also dystopian, was An Unkindness of Ghosts. This was one of my five star predictions and I must say, I totally nailed it. Aster lives on a generation ship that is organized vaguely like the Antebellum South. Social injustice, terrible conditions for the people on the lower decks, and Aster’s unusual personality made this an engaging read. Add to that fantastic world building, a mystery to be solved, and Aster’s relationship with her friends and colleague, and you’ve got a book that will stick with you. Rivers Solomon effortlessly adds discussions of gender and sexuality, neurodiversity and class difference into an exciting tale which – thankfully – didn’t leave me crying at the end, but rather with a sense of hope and satisfaction.

Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Fate was long overdue. If you’ve read the Tawny Man trilogy you can guess why I stopped reading after The Golden Fool. I was a little worried that I had forgotten all the important plot points but Robin Hobb is a skilled writer who reminded me of everything important in the first chapter, all without info dumping. It was like I had never left. And so I followed these characters I already loved onto a quest that promised doom for at least one of them. I did cry when certain events came to pass but Hobb managed to deliver an ending that felt both realistic and hopeful – something that’s not exactly the norm for Fitz. No matter how many years pass between books or which series you follow, you just can’t go wrong with Robin Hobb. She is a master of the genre.

Now Kindred by Octavia E. Butler was only my second Butler book but it made me want to go and read everything she’s written. This story of a young Black woman who is randomly transported back in time to a slave plantation does everything you expect plus a little more. Butler doesn’t waste time exploring the time travel mechanisms of her story – they don’t matter – but rather focuses on character and setting. Dana suddenly has to deal with a time when people like her were seen as little more than animals, so this book is exactly as hard to read as you think. It was a powerful story, though, that showed all characters as faceted, believable human beings, as well as highlighting aspects of slavery that especially impact women. This was not a fun read but I can’t recommend it highly enough!

I’ve had some starting problems with Laini Taylor but this year, I gave The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy another chance and promptly fell into it and read all three books. Daughter of Smoke and Bone still wasn’t a complete hit but worked better for me on the re-read. Days of Blood and Starlight showed that Laini Taylor can expand her fictional world without losing sight of her protagonists, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters brought the tale to its epic, bittersweet conclusion. What I love most about this series is the feeling of myth and lore and history that pervades it all. Even though we learn a lot about Chimaera and Seraphim, it always feels like there’s more hiding just around the corner. The relationships in this story were amazing, both the romantic ones as well as the friendships and found families that are made along the way. Oh, and of course, it’s written in beautiful, lyrical prose.

I also used this year to finish the Strange the Dreamer duology by picking up Muse of Nightmares and, boy, did that book rip my heart out. Again, Laini Taylor expands an already intriguing fantasy world and shows us just how much more there is out there. She also adds some new characters that put me through an emotional roller coaster. What I love most about these two books is probably the villains – or lack thereof. There are antagonists but as we get to see the world through their eyes, it becomes clear they’re not Evil. For the entirety of the book, I was sure things would end in tragedy and there couldn’t possibly be a happy end. And I’m not saying things end all that happily (at least not for everyone) but again, there is a tone of hope as well as the satisfaction of having read a complete story. The prose is otherworldly. Serioulsy, I could put quotes from this duology all over my walls.

Francis Hardinge’s Deeplight swept me off my feet a little unexpectedly. I knew Hardinge was a good writer with very original ideas but then she just goes and delivers a YA novel with truly complicated characters and relationships, set in a world with dead underwater gods, with a deaf character, multiple twists, and an exciting plot? Count me in for more Francis Hardinge because this was a pretty perfect YA novel if you ask me. I’m still thinking about some adventurous moments from this book and then I’m impressed yet again at how well constructed it was.
The Lodestar Award went to Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer which I also adored, so shoutout to that book.

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He was a twisty emotional rollercoaster that definitely stands out from other YA novels in that it doesn’t focus on the romance, puts its protagonist through seriously difficult choices, and delivers great solutions to its core mysteries. If you want a fast-paced book that nonetheless takes time to develop its characters, pick this up. Unfortunately, it ends a bit abruptly and as of today, there’s no sequel in sight. Here’s to hoping we’ll get one eventually.


I don’t know about you, but I’m going to call this a pretty successful reading year. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many favorites, especially among the new publications. Many of these books will end up on my Hugo nomination ballot – I’ll post it when the time comes. And who knows, until then I may have caught up on even more awesome books.

If you’ve posted a best of the year list, let me know in the comments. I love looking through other people’s favorite reads of the year. I’m especially interested in 2020 publications that I might have missed or should prioritize. 🙂

My Year of Finishing Series!

Happy Holidays!
I’m spending time with family for the next few days (we’ve all been tested negative and been isolated for the past weeks, plus we have masks, so it’ll be a very safe and very strange Christmas, but you know. We make the best of it). I have so many reviews to write as well as my favorite books of the year list to finish, but there’s no way I can get that done before Christmas. So I’m leaving you with this loooong list of mostly great books and promise to catch up after 26th December. I hope you’re all safe and healthy and I wish you wonderful holidays!

Entirely by accident, 2020 turned out to be the year where I finally continued and even finished (!) a bunch of book series I had started. By no means did I finish all the series I have ongoing, but a good chunk of them is now done and I cannot begin to tell you how satisfying it is to get to the end of a long, sprawling story that has been with you for years. Even if the ending didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, it still left me with a feeling of accomplishment.

Now let me tell you about the series I finished (or caught up on) this year and whether they were worth it.

Finished

Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham – FABLES

Fables complete serie - The Deluxe Edition - Hardcover - - Catawiki

I finally did it! I finished Fables!!! Now, to be honest, this wasn’t a series I ever intended to rush through. Some volumes were better than others but the overall quality was so good that it felt kind of nice to always have a few more volumes to look forward to. I’ve been reading the deluxe editions in increments, sometimes waiting for the next one to come out, then waiting for the right mood to strike. I have had the final three volumes on my shelf for some time now and all I needed to do to get to the very end was pick them up. Thanks to Covid-19 and the lockdown, I had a lot of time on my hands.
This story about fairy tale characters living secretly in our world, with politcal intrigues, crimes, a full-blown war, dark mysteries, curses, love stories, and everything else you can think of, is exactly the kind of thing I go for. At the beginning I would never have thought I’d come to care so much for random side characters or go out and actually buy all the books in the spin-off series about Jack of Fables… and yet I did. It was the idea that drew me in, but it was the characters that made me stay. There were definitely some weaker volumes but I can totally see myself re-reading the entire thing someday.


Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor – Cups and Thoughts

Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Technically, I still have the novella about side characters Mik and Zuzana to read, but I’ve finished the main trilogy after a rather rough start. I first read Daughter of Smoke and Bone years ago and didn’t love it. In fact, I was rather pissed off by the tropes used and the sudden shift in story in that book. On a re-read, however, knowing what to expect, I ended up quite liking the book. Then I continued reading and the series sneakily stole my heart. Laini Taylor’s wonderful ideas and world building are stunning – even if her fictional creatures are maybe a tad too beautiful. The way she wrote about this unwinnable war, about star-crossed lovers, about friendship and death and loyalty and loss… yeah, it worked for me. So much so that, immediately after finishing the second book, I went and devoured the third. Taylor also managed to stick the landing with the ending, delivering a satisfying finale that left me feeling content and mostly happy. I’m definitely still going to read that book about Mik and Zuzana though!


LAINI TAYLOR – STRANGE THE DREAMER

Look, I didn’t expect anything else but I was still surprised at how much this duology touched me. It’s not just Laini Taylor’s exquisite language or her brilliant, faceted characters who are never all good or all bad, it’s also the world building and the plot. Seriously, I can’t find fault in these books and I’ll probably re-read them many times to come.
Any lover of books or fairy tales, anyone who loves learning about different cultures, or who just likes reading about crazy original fantasy ideas will find something to enjoy in these books. Laszlo Strange is so easy to love and his story turns from rather small and intimate into a sprawling epic that I didn’t see coming. I consider this some of the very best the fantasy genre has to offer!


Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea due to be re-released on October 17th with brand new covers and illustrations. : Fantasy

Ursula K. LeGuin – The Earthsea Cycle

Books keep getting added to this series every time I check but for a while, at least, it was the Earthsea Quartet and that’s the part I’ve finished. I still have two short story collections to read but I read all the novels in LeGuin’s beloved fantasy series. This was also prompted by a re-read of A Wizard of Earthsea, a book I didn’t adore either time I read it but one I appreciated much more when I read it the second time, simply because I was looking for different things and noticing different aspects of LeGuin’s genius. When I got to the second book, The Tombs of Atuan, I finally understood why everyone loves this series so much. Man, did that book hit me in the feels! The third one was rather meh but I suspect I may like it more when I’m older and Tehanu, the one that got lots of award nominations and wins, was a thing of pure beauty. There is something special about the Earthsea books. Each is quite different from the previous one, in a way, and yet they all share common themes and LeGuin’s way of conveying emotion almost without me noticing (I mean that in the best way possible).
Reading these books was definitely rewarding and gave me a lot of food for thought.


The Arcadia Project: Borderline; Phantom Pains; Impostor Syndrome von Mishell Baker - Taschenbuch - 978-1-5344-1828-8 | Thalia

Mishell Baker – The Arcadia Project

This is the trilogy where my reading experience has led to a clear recommendation for you guys: Don’t let years pass between books 2 and 3! I read the first and second books soon after they were published and that small-ish gap between them worked fine. But then I waited several years before picking up the third book and I had a hard time remembering everyone’s name and station, who’s currently fighting with whom, how exactly all the magic worked, etc.
That didn’t keep me from enjoying Millie’s story as she handles not only her Borderline Personality Disorder as well as being a double amputee, but also navigating a new workplace (with magic!), her attractive boss, trying to make friends with people who don’t necessarily want to be her friend, and of course all sorts of fairy shenanigans. In terms of representation, this trilogy is amazing! Not only have I never read a story with so many diverse characters in terms of mental health, disabilities, LGBTQIA+, but the best thing is, they are all drawn with care, like real people – some likable, some not so much. These character’s aren’t their disabilities. They are all people, some of whom are gay, some transgender, some with mental health issues, some with physical disabilities, some with disabilities that aren’t visible. Even if there hadn’t been a kick-ass story about humans and fairies, this would be an important trilogy for our time.


FANS WILL WORSHIP THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, BOOK ONE

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie – The Wicked + the Divine

I read this comic book series in its entirety (re-reading the first volume) for the Hugo Awards and again, re-reading made everything better. Giving books a second chance is definitely the way to go, because apparently my mood plays a large part in how much I enjoy a book. This series, while it has some slight ups and downs, was overall really fun and exciting.
A pantheon of gods is reborn into regular humans’ bodies who then live like rockstars for two years, after which they will die. Except this time, they seem to die much quicker and it’s not of “natural causes”. There was so much to love here, starting with the art style which I found absolutely stunning. The story also grows bigger and bigger as you follow along. The characters become more fleshed out and I caught myself caring for some of them who I previously didn’t even notice all that much. Overall, this was a great experience, all the more because it sticks the ending.


Die Ära der Zeitreisen | Kultur

Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson – Paper Girls

For this, I didn’t re-read the first volume, which I had also read when the series first started. I liked the Stranger Things vibe but I remember that the story got a little too crazy for me at the end of the first book. As I continued, however, I was just fine with the amount of crazy. Time travel, LGBT romance, meeting your older selves, saving the world… yes please, give me more.
I don’t quite know why, but although I enjoyed every single volume of this 6-volume series, none of the instalments ever got me really excited. It felt a bit like a great mash-up of things that had been done before, drawn quite beautifully, and told well. But not groundbreaking. So it was a solid series, I’m happy I read it, but I don’t think I’ll revisit it.


Robin Hobb – The Tawny Man Trilogy (Realm of the Elderlings)

I first read Assassin’s Apprentice when I was 16 years old (I’m 34 now) and spent the following years devouring more and more of Hobb’s books set in the Realm of the Elderlings. Except with the Tawny Man Trilogy, I kind of hit a slump. I read The Golden Fool in 2012, so it’s been a LONG time. But Hobb wouldn’t be Hobb if she didn’t manage to immerse me in her world immediately and make me feel like no time has passed at all. I finally finished this third trilogy in her series of connected trilogies (plus one quartet). And although this trilogy is done, I will continue on with the larger series and see what’s been happening down South with those Bingtowners and the people in the Rain Wilds. After all, nobody can make me cry like Robin Hobb and her stories have stayed with me throughout the years. I’m actually glad I still have more of them to look forward to.


N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Earth Trilogy

You guys, I know it’s weird that I didn’t gobble up these books right when they came out. The Fifth Season still is one of the most mind-blowing fantasy books I’ve ever read and I wish I could erase my memory of it just to experience it for the first time again! But it’s exactly because it was so good that I waited a while before picking up The Obelisk Gate. And then I saved up The Stone Sky deliberately as a treat. Well, I think I’ve earned that treat by the end of 2020 and so, in December, I finally picked up the finale of this triple Hugo Award winning trilogy.

All caught up

Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda – Monstress

This is the one series on this list that I don’t plan to continue. I had read the first volume when it came out, liked it okay, but not enough to continue. The gorgeous art kept distracting me from the story and the aloof protagonist never managed to get me emotionally involved with her story. But as volume 4 was nominated for a Hugo Award this year, I caught up on the series and am left with the exact same feeling. Cool ideas, stunning artwork, but little emotional impact. I have to concede that this series is just not for me because as far as I can tell, neither writer nor artists are doing anything wrong. I see the appeal and I’m glad so many other people like it, but I don’t feel like reading more of it.
If the next volume is nominated for a Hugo again, I’ll read it but I won’t go out and actively buy a copy for myself.


Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn

So, I had read (or rather listened to) all of the Mistborn books already. First era, second era, all done. But! There was still this little novella set during the first era told from a different perspective on my TBR. I finally picked this one up, not expecting too much from it. I should have known better. Sanderson always delivers, after all!
Plotwise, Secret History doesn’t offer much that’s new, but it was like a behind the scenes look that gives a bit more background information on the larger story and on the Cosmere as a whole. You don’t need to read this to enjoy the Mistborn series but if you’re into the Cosmere, you won’t want to  miss it.


Brandon Sanderson – Skyward

Yeah, there’s no question I’ll always jump on the next book in this series as soon as it comes out. This YA sci-fi series is not Sanderson’s best but I can’t help but love it anyway. You’ll get his trademark twists at the end, you get a cast of lovable characters, great side characters (M-Bot & Doomslug!) and you get an exciting plot that promises even bigger secrets to be revealed in the future.
I also loved how Sanderson has grown in terms of his characters. They still don’t curse, ever, but in Starsight, we get characters who don’t belong to a specific gender and that’s not something I had expected from Sanderson. Way to go and please keep moving in that direction. People and aliens come in all different shapes, sizes, genders, with all kinds of abilities and disabilities. There will be two more volumes in this series so I don’t expect it to be finished before 2023. Until then, we get the next Stormlight Archive book, so I’m not complaining.


Carina's Books: Cover Reveal: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman – The Book of Dust

I had heard mixed things about this follow-up trilogy to His Dark Materials. With La Belle Sauvage, Pullman convinced me that he could actually pull it off and The Secret Commonwealth was no different. We follow an adult Lyra whose relationship with her daemon Pan is rather fraught. Lots of exciting things happen, of course, but the heart of the story is Lyra and Pan’s struggle to find back to each other emotionally.
Look, this isn’t His Dark Materials and nothing can take away the greatness of that trilogy. Even if the story is very different, the writing style gives me major nostalgia and reminds me how I felt when I first discovered this world as a teenager. So it is a worthy successor and one I intend to follow until the end.


Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Her Pitiless Command

I was thrilled to find out that the book that had felt so much like a series opener was, in fact, a series opener. So I picked up Mirrorstrike soon after it came out. It wasn’t as good as the first book, Winterglass, but then middle volumes rarely are. When the third volume comes out, I’ll be right here waiting for it because the characters and world building are simply too good not to find out how it all ends. And let’s not forget the absolutely stunning language with which Sriduangkaew tells this sort-of fairy tale retelling of The Snow Queen set in South East Asia.


Review: Martha Wells & The Murderbot Diaries | A Study in Murderbot

Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaires

I waited a bit before I picked up the first full-sized Murderbot novel, part five of the Murderbot Diaries. When I did pick it up, it was just as delightful as I had hoped. Murderbot simply has a way of stealing your heart with its hilarious narration and the way it deals with emotions (it would rather not). This series is a source of pure joy and I hope it continues for a long, long time – whether the next one is a novella or another novel, I don’t even care. Just as long as I get more Murderbot and maybe even more ART. Despite all the action and the constant danger, I’d even call this a feelgood series.

Continued a bit

Emma Newman – Planetfall

So I actually only started this series this year but rather than do what I usually do (read book one, then wait forever before I pick up the next), I continued pretty soon after with the second book. Although very different in setting and story type, I was taken with both of these. And since the series is finished, I intend to read the other two books as well. And soon!
Planetfall tells a very interesting story set on a different planet where humans have settled. But things aren’t exactly as they seem, the protagonist holds a highly intriguing secret (well, more than one actually) and things unravel from there.
In After Atlas we get a police procedural set on Earth, but a future Earth where society works a bit different from ours, and not exactly in a good way. I had so much fun reading both of these and I can’t wait to discover where Emma Newman takes the story in the final two books.


The Dark Tower series (9 BOOKS) BY Stephen King-MP3 AUDIOBOOK – ty's cheap DIGITAL audiobook/Etextbook

Stephen King – The Dark Tower

I don’t even remember when I started this series but I think I was still in school. So… very long ago. The first book wasn’t really for me, the second took a while to get going but then I binged books 3 and 4 right after. Wolves of the Calla was the one that made me stall again. It was just too long, had too many side stories, and I was a bit burned out on Dark Tower stuff by then. Newly motivated to continue some series, I picked up Song of Susannah, read it in no time at all and, while not loving it, at least gained my excitement for Stephen King’s writing back as well as the urge to finally finish this epic series. So far, I have managed to avoid spoilers about the ending (thank you, internet, for being so considerate and actually hiding spoilers about this series 🙂 ).


Open Your Door to Centaurs and Unicorns in Across the Green Grass Fields, the Newest Installment of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children Series! | Tor.com

Seanan McGuire – Wayward Children

This series is so hit or miss for me I hadn’t planned on continuing it. But it keeps getting nominated for the Hugo Awards and as a diligent voter, I had to pick up In an Absent Dream. It turns out, this was one of the good volumes and I really, really enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ll continue with the next book even if it doesn’t get an awards nomination. Considering how much I hated the third book, that’s pretty high praise.


Series Sunday: Toby Daye by Seanan McGuire – Post Thirty Two of Stay Home Order – Redd's Reads

Seanan McGuire – October Daye

As strange as my relationship with McGuire’s writing is, this is a series I really like so far. Granted, I’ve only read the first two books but they have both delivered exciting, action-packed tales with interesting fairy politics and a protagonist I can root for. I know nothing about the rest of the series (again, thank you, people who use spoiler tags!) but I’m hoping for a certain romantic pairing and to see more of some side characters I’ve grown to like.
I usually read hardly any Urban Fantasy so I’m glad I discovered a series I can follow along, knowing I’ll get a quick read that will be fun and make me feel stuff. I think the Shakespeare quote titles are a bit pretentious and don’t have much to do with the plot but I intend to stay with this series for the next few years. These books (so far) are excellent to get you out of a reading slump.


My Top Ten 2019 Reads (+ 20 More Great Ones) – Book Geek Reviews

Jessica Townsend – Nevermoor

I picked up the The Trials of Morrigan Crow during my holiday (which luckily fell into the time just before Covid-19 hit Europe and everything went into lockdown), then continued on with The Calling of Morrigan Crow in the Summer. I bought the third volume when it came out but haven’t gotten to it just yet.
This is such a heartwarming, whimsical tale with the loveliest found family, great friendships and lots of cool ideas. The world of Nevermoor may be dangerous, but it’s a cozy kind of dangerous if you know what I mean. Following Morrigan on new adventures feels a bit like coming home and the series was definitely worth it for all the warm and fuzzy feelings it gave me.
It’s also nice to have a book series I can gift to the kids in my family that isn’t you-know-what.


My Fancast/Dreamcast: An Ember In The Ashes Series – NJG Entertainment.com

Sabaa Tahir – An Ember in the Ashes

I remember how the first book in this quartet had me at the edge of my seat THE ENTIRE TIME. Every chapter made my pulse go up because it was so damn exciting and I was so scared for the protagonist! I wanted more of that, but unfortunately, the second book was a big let down. There was a ridiculous, obvious, unnecessary love triangle, the plot was quite weak, and there were none of the tense scenes I enjoyed so much in book 1. I’ll give the next book a chance but I’m not super eager to continue the series at this point. Depending on how well volume 3 does for me, I may just call it quits after that.


Marissa Meyer's Renegades Trilogy is Riveting Superhero Fiction | Den of Geek

Marissa Meyer – Renegades

I was lukewarm about Meyer’s sci-fi superhero series Renegades after reading the first book. Sure, it was fun and easy to read, but it felt a bit unstructured and convoluted. I did pick up the second book because Meyer is my guilty pleasure author and sometimes you just need a book that doesn’t require too much brain power. I enjoyed it well enough, I liked how it fleshed out the world and finally delivered some moments I had been hoping for from the very start.
It’s not great science fiction and not great literature either, but definitely great fun. After the second book, things are perfectly set up for a great climax, so it won’t be too long before I finish the trilogy.


Andrzej Sapkowski – The Witcher

Like many people, I finally picked up the Witcher books because of the Netflix series and I’m not sorry. Not only did the picture of Henry Cavill in my mind greatly enhance the reading experience, but the books themselves also surprised me. My expectations were… let’s say different. I thought tough manly Witcher man would run around slaying monsters. Instead I got a thoughtful exploration of who the real monsters are and a protagonist who, most of all, stands out because of his empathy! So far, I’ve read the two story collections that form the start of the series as well as the first novel. It wasn’t as good as the collections but I’m still invested enough in this universe and its characters that I look forward to the rest of the series.


Netflix verfilmt Bone von Jeff Smith - Anidrom - Animation News

Jeff Smith – Bone

I have a big, chunky all-in-one volume of this series and finally started reading it late last year. This charming tale about three bone creatures trying to survive in a hostile world and find their way home to Boneville starts out so simply and then slowly grows in the telling. At first, it’s this whimsical, cute story, but the more adventures the Bones go on, the bigger the world seems to get. We get mythology, strange creatures, lovable side characters, and a tale that grows up to be rather epic in scope.
I’ve read four out of the ten volumes so far and I’m glad there’s more Bone to look forward to.


Diana Wynne Jones – The Land of Ingary/Howl’s World

This loosely connected trilogy has languished on my TBR for too long. I read and loved Howl’s Moving Castle many years ago but when it was picked for the Sword and Laser book club, I took that chance to finally continue the series instead of re-reading the first book. Diana Wynne Jones writes with such charm and ease that it’s hard not to love her stories.
Humble carpet merchant Abdullah goes on an unexpected and rather wild adventure that was too delightful to describe here. Howl and Sophie do make an appearance, but this is clearly Abdullah’s book. I can’t wait to finish the trilogy next year. Whenever I need a book that feels like balm for my soul, I’ll pick this up.

So this is it… I swear I didn’t set out to do this at the beginning of the year. I planned on catching up on some series but I never thought I would get so far. It’s been incredibly rewarding, especially when I was reminded again, after years of neglecting a series, how much I loved it in the first place and how great it was to return to that world.
I’ve also discovered that re-reads can do wonders. Books I didn’t like the first time suddenly appeared in a new light or I appreciated things I simply missed before.

How are you handling your book series? Do you wait until it’s finished and then binge it in one go? Do you catch up on the newest volume every year? Or are you like me, which is to say completely unorganized? 🙂

My Heart Is Bursting: Laini Taylor – Muse of Nightmares

This was SO. BEAUTIFUL. I had saved this book for when I needed a treat and it was exactly that! A literary treat where every page is better than the one before, a story that made me laugh and cry, characters I wish I were friends with, and a kick-ass plot that I didn’t think could be resolved (spoiler: Laini Taylor totally resolves it!). WARNING: Huge, gigantic, massive (seriously) spoilers for Strange the Dreamer below! If you haven’t read Strange the Dreamer, don’t even read the synopsis of this book.

MUSE OF NIGHTMARES
by Laini Taylor

Published: Hodder & Stoughton, 2018
Hardcover: 522 pages
Series: Strange the Dreamer #2
My rating: 9/10

Opening line: Kora and Nova had never seen the Mesarthim, but they knew all about them.

Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old.
She believed she knew every horror, and was beyond surprise.
She was wrong.

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.
Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice–save the woman he loves, or everyone else?–while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.
As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?
Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this gorgeous sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.

The attentive reader of the opening line will notice that it is neither about Laszlo Strange nor Sarai, nor anyone else who has featured in the first book of this duology. Instead, we start with two sisters, Kora and Nova, who live in a place of ice and snow, where their only hope of a better life is to be taken by the Mesarthim in one of their metal airships. It is unclear whether these events happened a long time ago, but I was immediately intrigued, not least because we see Skathis the smith, but he is far from the tyrannical force we know he’ll become…

It took me all of five pages for my first exclamation of “this is AMAZING” because Laini Taylor managed to make me – someone who was yearning for more Strange and Sarai – care about these two completely new characters who were keeping me from returning to my favorites. Instead of impatiently rushing through Kora and Nova’s chapter, they became two new favorites whose sisterly bond was tangible right from the start.They don’t get many chapters in this book and the ones we get are far between but I was always happy to return to their story and see how it all ties into Strange’s adventure. And Laini Taylor being Laini Taylor, it all makes sense in the end and tells a story that’s so much bigger than I had expected.

But first things first. We return to Laszlo, Sarai, and the others in the terrible situation that the first book left them in. Sarai is dead, her ghost held only by Minya’s power, and Laszlo is a god who can control mesarthium. But Minya is still on her warpath and Sarai’s death played straight into her hands. Using her sister’s life to blackmail Laszlo into doing her – Minya’s – bidding seems almost too good to be true. Finally, she can get her revenge on the godslayer; finally she can show the people of Weep what it’s like to have your people wiped out. And if Laszlo wants to prevent mass slaughter, all he has to do is give up the girl he loves…

Laini Taylor does this several times. She puts her characters into impossible situations that couldn’t possible end well for everyone. There are no easy answers, there seems no way out that doesn’t end in tears, and death, and despair. But Taylor also creates amazing characters with agency who, after more than 500 pages, still managed to surprise me. I’m not going to give anything away here, but whenever I thought one bomb had been defused, a different one followed it and it was way worse than the previous one. Putting these beloved characters into ever more difficult situations in which they have to face choices that nobody should have to make wasn’t great for my blood pressure but it makes for a damn good story!
I’m happy to say – both from an emotional and an appreciative-of-the-plot-twists way – that things get… resolved. I’m not saying it’s all good or easy, but the plot managed to reach a very satisfying conclusion, wrapping up all its little side plot strings, tying them in a neat (albeit not perfect) bow and making me close the book with a sigh.

But the killer plot isn’t the only thing that’s great about Muse of Nightmares. In fact, the beginning was a little slow and for a few chapters, I thought “well, this is lovely, but I’m not feeling it the way I did the first book”. That all changed after a while, and not least because of the phenomenal characters. With the cast growing ever larger, there isn’t much time to spend with each side character such as Thyon Nero or Eril-Fane, but when we do read from their perspective, the author makes it count. Nero was so easy to despise in the first book, until we learned about his inner conflict and the reasons that turned him into the jerk he is. In this book, he actually grows! He tries to see things from a different perspective and he finds himself longing for friendship and a place to truly belong. I would have laughed if you’d told me that, after finishing this duology, I’d actually like Nero, this arrogant golden boy wunderkind who’s too good for everyone else! But I do, I really do!

Which leads me nicely into the question of villains. Because there aren’t any… or at least not in the way that you’d expect. The only truly evil characters in this story have been dead long before Strange the Dreamer started, but all the antagonists are usually just… people. Nobody is all good here, but then again, nobody is all bad either. Even Minya – that little ball of crazy – is shown as a sympathetic character who has her own struggles to deal with. Sure, some characers’ reactions to trauma are more radical than others’ but Laini Taylor made me care about everyone on every side of the various divides, so I never had a “side” to root for because I wanted everyone to win. Even if one person “winning” meant that, inevitably, someone else would lose – and this feeling permeates the whole series, showing war for what it is – something that can only make everyone lose. There’s no good guys and bad guys, it’s not just “let’s kill the evil orcs and then the land will be free” because the “evil orcs” are also people whose motives (if not their methods) are as understandable as those of the other guys.

I wish I had a better grasp of the English language to convey just how beautiful Laini Taylor’s writing is. Her prose is lyrical, painting pictures in my head that effortlessly come to life, but she’s also great at dialogue. That was made all the more apparent by Laszlo and Sarai’s first shared moments, those little snippets of time where they could be themselves, not think of their problems, and simply learn to be with each other. Although there are some declarations of love, they are never cheesy. At turns shy, then humerous again, then full of hope and dreams (always dreams), they felt like actual people who had been yearning for each other and finally get the chance to fall asleep in each other’s arms for the first time.

Wishes don’t just come true. They’re only the target you paint around what you want. You still have to hit the bull’s eye yourself.

About the world building: Laini Taylor has set up most of this world in the first book, so there’s not a lot of new things to discover. Or so I thought! Apart from those flashback chapters to Kora and Nova and their interactions with the Mesarthim, Laszlo’s gift opens new possibilities and lets us learn more about Weep and its past and Skathis and the gods. There were several open questions from the first book that all get answered here, and then some.
I should have seen it coming because in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, Taylor also started with a small slice of the world and then opened it up to something waaaay bigger in the sequels, but in this duology, I figured we’d mostly read about Weep and its culture. Without spoiling, there is far more to this world than first meets the eye, and – to use Dirk Gently’s words – IT’S ALL CONNECTED. When the puzzle pieces fell into place in my head, I actually put down the book and jumped around the room because I felt like a giddy child who had discovered something great about the universe.
That’s about as specific as I can get without spoiling the surprise. Just trust me that I’m not mad, I am just really excited about Taylor’s world buildling and the way it all makes so much sense.

As much as I didn’t want this book to end, I raced through the second half of it. Revelation followed revelation, the stakes grew ever higher, a happy ending ever more unlikely. I mentioned that the beginning was a bit slow, but it all pays off in the end. The pieces that were set up all come together, everyone has their role to place, and there was never a good place to stop reading. I can already feel the book hangover coming…
There were so many moments that brought tears to my eyes, and not because something tragic happens (well, not always). After spending almost 1000 pages with these characters and growing to care about them, the smallest thing would set me off. A small gesture, a word spoken in friendship when I’d expected hate, someone being brave when they didn’t have to be, someone showing compassion when it would have been easier to kill the opponent… This book was just deeply, deeply moving on many levels and yet again – just like in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy – Laini Taylor managed to nail the ending, giving us enough closure to leave this story with a feeling of having reached The End, but making clear that the characters’ story is far from over.

MY RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection!

Top Ten Tuesday – Favorite Bookish Quotes

Life has been a bit stressful lately, so I haven’t posted as much as I would have liked. But I’m still reading and catching up on 2020 releases, so you can expect new reviews soon. Pinkie promise!

Until then, I thought I’d participate in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, which is all about bookish quotes. I dove deep into my reading history and, unsurprisingly, ended up with quotes from my favorite books and authors.

My favorite bookish quotes

LAINI TAYLOR – STRANGE THE DREAMER

Because Laini Taylor is a genius and Strange the Dreamer is full of beautiful quotes, I cheated and chose two:

“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

– Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor


CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE – DEATHLESS

It comes as no surprise that my very favorite author is featured on this list. She may make more than one appearance… Catherynne M. Valente’s Deathless broke my heart in so many ways, it’s ridiculous. And while there are many lines in that book that I can re-read over and over again without them losing their power, here’s my favorites:

“You will always fall in love, and it will always be like having your throat cut, just that fast.”

– Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente


LAINI TAYLOR – LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES

And I have to add another Laini Taylor book. Her collection of shorter works Lips Touch: Three Times is the reason I gave this author another chance when I bounced off another of her books hard. I’m so glad I tried again because now she’s one of my favorites.

16079073

“There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her. The pert, lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? No, not them. The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? Yes.
Them.
The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.”

– Goblin Fruit by Laini Taylor


CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE – THE FAIRYLAND SERIES

So, every single one of the five volumes in the Fairyland Series is filled to the brim with quotable lines. I have chosen only a few to give you a taste. If you haven’t yet, go try and read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and then devour the rest of the series because it is filled with the kind of wonder you last felt as a kid, plus Cat Valente’s trademark lyrical prose.

Summer Reading: Catherynne M. Valente's Fairyland Series — home | school | life

“A silent Library is a sad Library. A Library without patrons on whom to pile books and tales and knowing and magazines full of up-to-the-minute politickal fashions and atlases and plays in pentameter! A Library should be full of exclamations! Shouts of delight and horror as the wonders of the world are discovered or the lies of the heavens uncovered or the wild adventures of devil-knows-who sent romping out of the pages. A Library should be full of now-just-a-minutes and that-can’t-be-rights and scientifick folk running skelter to prove somebody wrong. It should positively vibrate with laughing at comedies and sobbing at tragedies, it should echo with gasps as decent ladies glimpse indecent things and indecent ladies stumble upon secret and scandalous decencies! A Library should not shush; it should roar!”

– The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente

 

“A book is a door, you know. Always and forever. A book is a door into another place and another heart and another world.”

– The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente


TERRY PRATCHETT – REAPER MAN

And another infinitely quotable writer appears on this list. Terry Pratchett was a treasure and a fountain of insight into human nature. The fact that he holds up a mirror to our society with humor only makes his books better! Reaper Man is one of his books that touched me particularly because even though Death takes a vacation in this story, his job is never really done, is it?

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”

– Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett


THEODORA GOSS – IN THE FOREST OF FORGETTING

I discovered Theodora Goss via Cat Valente because they both write mythpunk. The short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting blew me away with its imaginative stories, deep themes, and of course, beautiful quotes.

“This is the sort of thing people like: the implication that, despite their minivans and microwaves, if they found the door in the wall, they too could enter fairyland.”

Pip and the Fairies by Theodora Goss


MAGGIE STIEFVATER – THE RAVEN BOYS

Maggie Stiefvater is one of those author who can pull you into a story that you follow along nicely, and then she hits you with a line so perfect it’s like a punch in the guts. But, you know, in a good way. I urge you to read her entire Raven Cycle, and then throw in the Scorpio Races and have your heart torn out. Because why should it just be me. I would have added my favorite quote from that book as well but it’s the very last line and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

“Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn’t know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves.”

– The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater


TERRY PRATCHETT – NATION

Come on, let me have another Pratchett quote! This is a non-Discworld novel so if academic wizards, headology-using witches, or cynical city guards aren’t for you, pick this one up. Nation has so many layers and all of them are beautiful. Ever since I read it, I’ve been giving this book as a gift to everyone I could think of.

“Someone had to eat the first oyster, you know.
Someone looked at a half shell full of snot and was brave.”

 

“Take one strip of the vine lengthwise and yes, it needs the strength of two men to pull it apart. But weave five strands of it into a rope and a hundred men can’t break it. The more they pull, the more it binds together and the stronger it becomes. That is the Nation.”

– Nation by Terry Pratchett


YSABEAU S. WILCE – THE FLORA SEGUNDA TRILOGY

This criminally underread trilogy is such a gem! Flora Segunda, Flora’s Dare, and Flora’s Fury are the kind of books that make you feel like coming home after a long trip. You fall into this world’s alternate Calfornia and follow young Flora and her best friend Udo on crazy adventures. There’s twists and turns and quite a few emotional moments. Wilce’s use of language is quite brilliant and sets this series apart from other Middle Grade/YA tales.

Paperback Wonderland: August 2013

“I lit the lantern, ate a bar of chocolate, put on dry socks, and felt much better. You’d be amazed, said Nini Mo, how much dry socks matter.”

– Flora’s Dare by Ysabeau S. Wilce

 

“It’s like Nini Mo said, They may be snapperheads, but they are my snapperheads.”

– Flora’s Fury by Ysabeau S. Wilce


GENEVIEVE VALENTINE – MECHANIQUE

This was one of those surprise books that I didn’t expect too much of and then it swept me away with its prose, its intricate characters, and the story it tells. Putting it on this list makes me want to re-read it immediately. Mechanique was so good, you guys! And it didn’t get nearly the attention it should have.

One day the wolf was wild enough to run into the forest near their camp, hunting something only it could sense. A week later when they pulled down the tent, the wolf had not come back. “Call it, if you want,” Boss told Jonah. “We’ll wait.”
That night Jonah stood for an hour at the edge of the camp, looking into the darkness of the woods. He came back empty-handed.
Ayar frowned. “It didn’t come?”
Jonah said, “I didn’t call.”

– Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine


 

The Epic Conclusion: Laini Taylor – Dreams of Gods and Monsters

At this point, there is no way I can be considered unbiased anymore. It took me two tries to appreciate this story of Chimaera and Seraphim but now that I’m into it, I know I can’t judge this book properly. I am completely biased, I am rooting for the characters, I love the world… so any flaws this book may have (and I’m sure it does) just didn’t matter because Laini Taylor has woven her magic around me and I am happily oblivious. Warnings for gushing and spoilers for Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight!

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini TaylorDREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS
by Laini Taylor

Published: Little, Brown, 2014
eBook: 613 pages
Audiobook: 18 hours 12 minutes
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3
My rating: 7.5/10

Opening line: Once upon a time, an angel and a devil pressed their hands to their hearts and started the apocalypse.

Two worlds are poised on the brink of a vicious war. By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera’s rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her.
When the brutal angel emperor brings his army to the human world, Karou and Akiva are finally reunited – not in love, but in a tentative alliance against their common enemy. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves.
But with even bigger threats on the horizon, are Karou and Akiva strong enough to stand among the gods and monsters?
The New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy comes to a stunning conclusion as – from the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond – humans, chimaera, and seraphim strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

It’s pretty amazing when an author sets up a world, peoples it with interesting characters and then, in the sequel, makes that world so much bigger that you feel like you’ve entered an entirely new story. It’s even more amazing when an author manages to pull this off twice! Laini Taylor did just that in her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. Whereas the first book took place mostly in Prague and some other places on Earth, the second book transported us not just to Morocco but also to Eretz – the world where Chimaera and Seraphim come from. By meeting new characters, this world felt utterly real and Taylor painted a picture of this centuries-old war that was so engaging to read that I didn’t even miss those quieter, funnier moments with Zuzana and Karou in Prague.

In this final book, we are introduced to yet another aspect of the world and we learn some rather important (read: world shaking) things about its past. But I’m getting ahead of myself and I won’t tell you what I mean anyway, because this is a spoiler-free blog. Just know that you’re in for a couple of surprises that were hinted at before but definitely not predicted by me.

Karou and Akiva have managed a reluctant truce between their people and the goals are clear. What with Jael having invaded Earth, pretending to be biblical angels in order to gather human weapons, and the revelation that hundreds, maybe thousands, of Chimaera souls being preserved, they plan to do two things. Keep Jael from bringin human weapons to Eretz and decimating their entire world and resurrect what’s left of the Chimaera. But of course, things don’t go exactly as planned. That’s all I’m going to say about the plot as such because while it was certainly exciting, my focus was on other aspects of this book.

The characters have grown so dear to me over the course of the series that I didn’t think I had space in my heart for new ones. But I totally did! Karou and Akiva are obviously my favorites, but Zuzana and Mik prove their worth over and over again, all while providing the necessary comic relief to not make this story too dark. I adored Zuzana’s bickering, her practicality, and her brilliant mind in moments of need. But we meet new characters as well and one of them felt out of left field. Eliza is a student who is plagued by strange dreams of monsters and angels… It’s pretty easy to make the connections to the monsters and angels we, as readers of this series, already know, but figuring out how Eliza fits into this took a while. And while I adored the idea behind her character and the resolution of this mystery, I think a tad more foreshadowing could have been used in the previous books. That’s the bit of critizism I can come up with in my adoring Laini-Taylor-is-the-best-give-me-all-her-books state of mind. 🙂

I also appreciated that some characters from the very first book become important or make an appearance again. It shows that Taylor didn’t just add them in willy-nilly. And even if she did, those characters are fleshed-out enough for them to have a personality and a mind of their own. With everything that’s going on in the world(s), it only makes sense that these people would have hopes and desires that sometimes work well with our heroes’ own plans and sometimes… not so much. I love that added layer of realism in works of fantasy. Just because we’re dealing with monsters and angels doesn’t mean that they can’t behave like people, after all.

The ending was a fantastic mixture of bittersweet resolution and enough open questions for maybe revisiting this world again, someday. Without spoiling, it’s really hard to talk about details but I can tell you this much: Even when a war is over, things don’t magically fall into place and everyone isn’t suddenly happy living alongside people they have been fighting against all their lives. You don’t topple Sauron’s tower and all the Orcs magically die. In this world, the Orcs aren’t necessarily the bad guys either and the plan is to live alongside them. That takes an enormous amount of work and Laini Taylor doesn’t let her characters off easy. I found the ending very satisfying, even though I have a few questios that were left unanswered. For now, I am just happy that I still have the spin-off about Mik and Zuzana ahead of me.

MY RATING: 7.5/10 – Very good!

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy:

  1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone
  2. Days of Blood and Starlight
  3. Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Illumicrate Collections: Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Illumicrate

War Between Angels and Monsters: Laini Taylor – Days of Blood and Starlight

It doesn’t happen often that an author makes my opinion change 180 degrees. Laini Taylor did it! I first read Daughter of Smoke and Bone a while ago and bounced off it hard. Then, however, I read Strange the Dreamer and fell so utterly in love that a second chance was in order. My second read of the trilogy opener ended up much more positive. So much so that I ordered the pretty expensive Illumicrate special edition hardback. And while I’m saving Muse of Nightmares, I just had to know how Karou’s story continued. SPOILERS FOR DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE BELOW!

Announcing Laini Taylor's 10th Anniversary Editions | HodderscapeDAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT
by Laini Taylor

Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012
eBook: 516 pages
Series: Daughter of Smoke & Bone #2
My rating: 7.5/10

Opening line: Prague, early May. The sky weighed gray over fairy-tale rooftops, and all the world was watching. 

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.
This is not that world.

Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.
In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.
While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.
But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

This book picks up almost seamlessly from where the last one ended and it begins both in the best of ways and the most agonizing of ways. I love that the opening chapter is from the point of view of Zuzana, Karou’s best friend from art school. She not only brings a lot of humor into an otherwise very dark story, but she also puts the girls’ friendship front and center. Do I even need to mention how much I love seeing great female friendships in fiction? Where one girl can appreciate that the other is ridiculously beautiful without being jealous? Where they have each other’s backs, no matter what? Yeah, Zuzana and Karou are like that and this middle volume puts more focus on that friendship than the first one did.
The reason the beginning was also terrible (in a good way because it hits you right in the feels) was that it takes a long time for us to actually catch up to Karou. We see what Akiva has been up to, we meet some new chimaera characters, and that’s all good and interesting, BUT WHAT ABOUT KAROU?? Until, of course, we do see what she’s been doing and, more importantly, how she’s been doing.

Laini Taylor may write about Chimaera and Seraphim, creatures that aren’t real, that are considered fantasy, but this novel is really about war where it doesn’t matter what side you’re on or whether any of the people involved are actually human. Karou hasn’t been idle since Zuzana and Mik watched her fly away into the sky but she also hasn’t been well. When we meet her again, she is broken, torn between her two lives and numbed by the grief of having lost her closest family. And then there’s the war…

This book takes a little longer to get going because it spends a lot of its first half introducing secondary characters, sometimes even very minor characters, to give the world more depth. I loved those parts but I’m sure some readers will be put off by the lack of focus on Karou. I found it interesting (and at times heartbreaking) to get to know random Chimaera characters who are currently in Eretz, fleeing from the angels that are trying to slaughter their entire species. I also loved seeing from the eyes of Seraphim guardsmen who aren’t participating in the war by hunting and killing Chimaera civilians, but whose job it is to protect emperor Joram. Their perspective is vastly different than Akiva’s for example, and even though some of those side characters only show up for a chapter or three, they helped make this world feel more real and more lived-in. And they gave me, as the reader, hope for a future peace. Not everyone is on board with what their leaders are telling them. They comply out of fear or because they think they are alone. Then again, some characters are just utterly vile and we get to see them as well, adding to the darkness of this novel.

There is little advancement in plot for a long time but during the second half of the book, things go absolutely crazy. Not only are old secrets revealed and new alliances forged, but both Karou and Akiva go through extremely tough situations that will leave them changed for the rest of their lives. The ending managed to straddle that line between being a satisfying conclusion to this volume but leaving many, many things open to be resolved in the final instalment.

There were a few things about this book that made it stand out to me. One quote – which I can’t tell you without spoiling, so I’ll be super vague – even brought tears to my eyes. I can sort of describe why, though. What Laini Taylor sets up during the beginning of this book is an atmosphere of utter despair. We see both sides of this useless war doing unspeakable things to each other and neither side can see any way out of it. Too much has happened in the past, to many deaths, too much suppression, how is this ever supposed to end unless one side completely annihilates the other? In the middle of this depressing world are Akiva and Karou, both sort of helping “their side” in the war effort but neither of them wants the killing to continue. But what can two lonely people do against the Warlord’s ruthless son and the Seraphim emperor who is determined to eradicate all Chimaera?

When you’re right in there with Karou and Akiva, when you feel there’s no hope for this story to ever reach a resemblance of a happy ending, Laini Taylor gives you glimpses of light. And it was those moments – whichever form they came in – that made this book have such an impact on me. Whether it’s a side character who refuses orders because killing children is not something they want to do, even if it’s “the only way” to save their people; or someone you thought you couldn’t trust who turns out to be on your side after all, or whether it’s just Zuzana and Mik being Zuzana and Mik and showing everyone that there’s more to life than blood and battle – I loved these moments and they gave me, reading this, the same feeling that the characters in the story got and which is also the book’s central theme: hope!

If I wasn’t in the middle of a readathon with a nicely planned TBR, I would have started the third book right away. I may just make Dreams of Gods and Monsters my next audiobook just so I can get to it in August. By now, after the rollercoaster of emotions that has been me discovering Laini Taylor’s writing, I have high expectations and I’m pretty sure I’ll be a sobbing mess by the end of this trilogy.

MY RATING: 7.5/10 – Very, very good!

Look at these gorgeous anniversary editions!!! There will be a paperback re-release of the trilogy (third cover to be revealed) but as I mentioned above, I splurged and orderd the signed hardback edition from Illumicrate and I fully intend to get the matching hardbacks for the rest of the trilogy.

Laini Taylor 10th Anniversary Special Editions | Hachette UK

These stunning covers are done by Jim di Bartolo (Laini Taylor’s husband) and I just love all the little details. Brimstone’s face on the first cover with a tiny Karou looking up at him just says so much. And then you have (I assume) Prague hidden in the smoky blue lines.
On the second cover, it took me a while to notice that the fiery smoke behind Madrigal (I guess it’s Madrigal) is in the shape of wings which also fits the book perfectly! I have no idea what to expect from book 3 as I haven’t read it yet but I cannot wait for both the content and the new cover of that book. It’s been a while since I was this excited! 🙂

 

So Much Better on a Re-Read: Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I don’t usually write reviews when I re-read a book but this time, I simply had to. Because this is probably the only case where a book I disliked a lot turned into a book I really loved! It goes to show that what you read before you pick up a book and your current mood makes a huge difference. I think the first time I read this, I had read too many bad YA books and went into it prejudiced or at least very carefully. When my expectations weren’t met, I was annoyed. And the love story kind of threw me.
This time around, I knew what to expect, I was in the right mood, and I ended up loving it. Sure, I still have some reservations (holy crap, the dialogue is cheesy on occasion) but I was much more forgiving on those parts because everything else was just so beautiful.

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE
by Laini Taylor

Published: Little, Brown, 2011
Ebook: 420 pages
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day.

Around the world, black hand prints 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 grows dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly 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 beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery 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?

Karou is a young, blue-haired art student who lives in Prague. She also secretly works for a group of chimeara – human-animal hybrids or monsters or whatever you want to call them – running errands for them. Errands that mostly have her collecting teeth from different places all over the world. Through doors that turn into magical portals, she can get to far-off places quite easily and bring back teeth to her foster father Brimstone. Karou was raised by Brimstone and his monster friends but she doesn’t actually know who she is, who her biological parents are, or where she comes from. So even though she has otherworldly beauty and a best friend, she always feels sort of lost in the world. Like there’s a part of her missing.

Oh man, there is so much to love in this story. Having read Strange the Dreamer and some shorter works by Laini Taylor, I have to say that this feels very much like an early work. The beginnings of her genius are there but her lyrical language often veers into kitsch, something that doesn’t happen at all in her later books. What bothered me immensely the first time I read this was the description of people’s looks. Both Karou and Akiva are so beautiful that Laini Taylor unpacked a whole list of cliché descriptions that simply made me roll my eyes. Those parts were just as painful on the re-read as they were the first time. But at least I was prepared and tried to ignore it and concentrate on the other parts of the story.

And the story packs a punch. When black handprints appear on the portals Karou uses, she knows something isn’t right. When she is cut off from the only family she has evern known and has to fear for their lives, it’s time to act on her own. Even if that means talking to the weird (but of course, crazy beautiful) angel who almost killed her and who seems responsible for her dire situation. When Karou and Akiva do talk, the secrets that are revealed are way bigger than Karou could have expected. And that’s all I can say about that without spoiling. But there are twists within twists and they work because – despite the cheesy language – Laini Taylor makes us care for these characters first.

Karou wasn’t the easiest character to like. She feels a bit aloof what with all her secret-keeping and the magical abilities granted to her by Brimstone, in the form of wishes. Being a teenager, she only gets small wishes – just enough to make her hair blue without having to dye it, or to give a nasty ex-boyfriend an uncomfortable itch. But Karou is after the bigger wishes, the ones that can make you fly or turn invisible. And honestly, how can I fault her? I would totally get myself teleportation powers and invisibility… But it took me a while to actually like her. Maybe it’s because she is described as being so beautiful and well-liked that I couldn’t really identify with her. But the more the story progresses and the more it becomes evident that Karou has real problems to deal with, the more I liked her. Even the ridiculous insta-love is forgivable once you’ve read the entire book.

Another strange storytelling choice was the cut from Karou’s storyline to a story from the magical world of the chimaera. It is such a crass cut that totally jarred me out of the reading experience when I first read this book.  Once you have read the entire book, it does make sense, but when you go into it for the first time, it just feels weird to completely leave Karou behind and go to a different character’s story for many chapters without ever checking back with Karou. Maybe alternating chapters would have been a better idea, maybe this is the right way to tell the story, I don’t know. But I also knew to expect this and so the wanting-to-finally-get-back-to-Karou wasn’t all that bad this time. And, unlike last time, I really enjoyed this flashback because I could just enjoy it for what it was. Madrigal’s story shows us this amazing other world, the one that Karou doesn’t really know. The one where Brimstone and Issa came from.

I can’t really put my finger on why this book worked so damn well for me this time when I kind of hated it the first time around. Sure, knowing ahead of time what things I won’t like helped. But I believe it mostly had to do with my own mindset and some prejudices about YA romantic fantasties that I have since left behind me (mostly). Whatever it really was, I am so very glad I gave this series another chance because I will definitely continue reading the trilogy and anthing else Laini Taylor publishes. The good thing is, I already know her writing gets better with every book (having adored Strange the Dreamer and Lips Touch: Three Times), so I fully expect to like the second and third novels in this trilogy even more.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

The Dream Chooses the Dreamer: Laini Taylor – Strange the Dreamer

Sometimes, everything about a book is just right. While many books have lovely covers, only few manage to offer a story that equals it. This is a book where the feelings you get when you look at the cover (I have the UK edition which is my absolute favorite) actually give you a hint of what you’ll find inside. Something magical and strange, where the color blue is important, where moths are more than just annoying creatures that come out at night… I loved everything about this book!

STRANGE THE DREAMER
by Laini Taylor

Published by: Hodder & Stougthon, 2017
Hardcover: 536 pages
Series: Strange the Dreamer #1
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: On the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?
The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?
In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

There are some books that take a while to draw you in, to make you feel part of their world, to turn characters from strangers into friends. Not this book! From the very first chapter, I was captivated, I wanted to learn everything about the world into which Laszlo Strange had been born. When I read that Laszlo’s nose had been broken by a book of fairy tales, I was already utterly in love with him – and so will many other book lovers.

Strange the Dreamer is about many things, but at its core, it is about a city. A city Laszlo first encountered in stories he heard as a child, a city filled with magical beasts, and brave warriors, and colorful markets. When one day, Laszlo – and everybody else – loses that city’s name from his mind and memory, he knows magic is real and wants to solve the mystery of what is now called Weep. I don’t think it’s a spoiler when I say that the city is by no means a fairytale and it has much bigger problems than a missing name… And Laszlo of course wants to solve them.

It is a rare book that gets me so emotional in such a short span of time. At the very beginning, when we still get to know Laszlo Strange and his life as an apprentice librarian, we watch him play Tizerkane – one of the legendary warriors from the city of Weep. I got so swept up in his dreams that I wanted the legends to be real as much as Laszlo did. When, shortly after that, something happens to Laszlo that is brutally unfair, I felt real anger on his behalf. I was only a few chapters into the book and already I felt like Laszlo was my friend! That is no small feat and I can only applaud Laini Taylor for it. She is equally deft with her other characters. Whether we’re meant to love or hate them, see them for the multi-layered people that they are, be uncertain of whether we like them – she does it all beautifully and has created a cast of amazing characters that will stay with me for a long time.

As the title would suggest, this book is like falling into a dream and the writing style goes perfectly with that theme. Lush descriptions, beautiful quotable passages, natural-sounding dialogue – I couldn’t find a fault with it even if I tried to nitpick. In fact, this book was so gorgeous (inside and out) that I dragged it  out the further I got to the end. I know there’s a second book – it has moved onto my shelf in the meantime – but the longer I can spend with Laszlo and the others, the better.

Speaking of the others, there are quite a few and all of them are interesting, even though I wouldn’t want to know all of them in real life. Thyon Nero, an alechemist prodigy, may not be in direct competition with Laszlo (as a librarian, he doesn’t exactly have a high social status), but he is something like Laszlo’s childhood rival, nonetheless. But although he seems to be the first “villain”, we soon learn that there is more to Nero than meets the eye. Sure, he may be a jerk most of the time, but there are reasons for that and it’s not that he’s a bad person, he’s just a victim of circumstance.
On the other hand, we have characters like Sarai, who became an immediate favorite. I won’t say much about her because although we meet her early in the book, there are a few twists and surprises that I don’t want to spoil for you. Let’s just say that she leads a pretty difficult life, filled with magic and monsters and moths. Yes, you read that right – moths. The cover isn’t just pretty (soooo pretty), it is actually meaningful. Sarai’s inner conflict would have been enough to fill an entire book, but pairing her story with Laszlo’s created something new and wonderful.
Then there’s Eril-Fane, lauded as a hero who has saved his city, and sure… he kind of did that. But again, there is way more to his story than you may think at first.

It’s quite difficult to talk about the plot without giving too much away. And it’s not even that there are that many plot twists, but the way Laini Taylor slowly unveils the secrets of her story is so utterly perfect that I don’t want to ruin it for you guys. She puts characters we love into impossible situations, she gives us moments of pure bliss, and moments of absolute desperation. And, at the end, she  puts a knife in our hearts and twists it around – because authors are evil, I guess. But, you know, the good kind of evil.

This was a story that will stay with me for a long time. Reading it was a wonderful experience, trying to figure out how to solve the various problems, speculating where the story might go, it was just pure fun. I haven’t been this emotionally engaged in a book for a while and although I really want to know how the story ends, I am also a little hesitant. Because once I’ve finished the second book, it will truly be over.

MY RATING: 9/10 – Nearly perfect!

Surprisingly wonderful: Laini Taylor – Lips Touch: Three Times

This was a second-chance read for me. Unlike everyone else in the world, I didn’t like Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and it made me not want to read more books written by her. But I always give authors a second chance, especially if the book sounds intriguing enough. And now I am really confused because I loved this collection to pieces! I must give Daughter of Smoke and Bone another try, I guess. And pick up Strange the Dreamer of course.

LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES
by Laini Taylor

Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009
Hardcover: 266 pages
Story collection
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave.

Three tales of supernatural love, each pivoting on a kiss that is no mere kiss, but an action with profound consequences for the kissers’ souls:

Goblin Fruit
In Victorian times, goblin men had only to offer young girls sumptuous fruits to tempt them to sell their souls. But what does it take to tempt today’s savvy girls?

Spicy Little Curses
A demon and the ambassador to Hell tussle over the soul of a beautiful English girl in India. Matters become complicated when she falls in love and decides to test her curse.

Hatchling
Six days before Esme’s fourteenth birthday, her left eye turns from brown to blue. She little suspects what the change heralds, but her small safe life begins to unravel at once. What does the beautiful, fanged man want with her, and how is her fate connected to a mysterious race of demons?

Oh, how I loved everything about this collection! Each story sets its own tone, weaves its own type of magic, and crushes the heart as only a true fairy tale can. The connecting theme of kisses – or at least lips touching – runs through these tales, and it shows that a kiss isn’t always the same thing.

In Goblin Fruit, Laini Taylor revisits Christina Rossetti’s beautiful poem Goblin Market (of which I have a gorgeous edition here with an Arthur Rackham cover). The story begins with a sort of introduction into the tale we’re about to devour. And devour is the right word to describe what reading this felt like. The writing is beautiful – both like a fairy tale and very contemporary, but fusing the two effortlessly.

There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her. The pert, lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? No, not them. The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? Yes.
Them.
The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.

Kizzy is just one such girl. Never the prettiest, living outside of town with her weird family, and definitely not on the school’s hottest boy’s radar. But Kizzy wants. And then Jack shows up and sweeps her off her feet, into the sort of fairy tale romance young girls dream of.

I adored this story for many reasons, and the writing is only one of them. But the way Laini Taylor managed to put teenage hopes and dreams into one character so realistically, it made me want to scream. YES! Yes, I felt like that. I’d hazard a guess that most girls reading this book weren’t the prettiest girl in their school/university/social circle, and that, yes, sometimes we resent ourselves for not being as (seemingly) perfect as that one girl who attracts all the men. In Kizzy, all of these feelings are present, but she never appears like a special snowflake kind of YA heroine. She doesn’t magically turn into a gorgeous babe, but – very naturally and understandable – she falls completely and utterly for the one (super handsome) boy who seems interested in her, who doesn’t even notice other girls. It’s a sort of teenage wish fulfillment story but, unlike some crap YA novels, it doesn’t end in a fairy tale wedding or some other bullshit.

Spicy Little Curses is set in India, where an English widow takes tea with a demon. If that wasn’t already cool enough, they have tea to discuss and trade souls. Estella wishes to save children from death by natural disaster, and Vasudev the demon just wants as many souls as he can get. So they discuss and they barter. And a curse is born.

At the British parties in Jaipur, gossip swirled wild on eddies of whiskeyed breath.

The story then focuses on the cursed child, a girl who was given the most beautiful voice in the world but anyone who hears it immediately falls down dead. Because Estella is no fool, she made sure the little girl wouldn’t kill everyone around her by crying. And Anamique grows up silent. There is a romance, there is more beautiful language, but most of all, there is a tortured young girl whose entire life is based on belief! Anamique restrains herself, she refuses her greatest pleasure – music – and grows up almost as an outcast. People think of her as a simpleton because she never speaks. The descriptions of her life were incredibly hard to read, because her desire to sing, to enjoy music through her voice, not just the piano, broke my heart.

But framing Anamique’s story is still the tale of Estella, by far the coolest and most bad-ass widow I’ve ever read about. There is a surprising amount of world building and great side characters, considering the story isn’t very long. There’s magic and demons, longing and love, and playing tricks on the devil, which is always fun.

Hatchling is the longest of the three tales in this collection, and while not my favorite still excellent. It’s about Mab and her daughter Esmé who are more than they appear at first glance. Teading this is a lot like a dream, or like following the White Rabbit into its burrow where you fall deeper and deeper into this other world, without really noticing the borders. The tale begins with with little Esmé’s eye turning from brown to blue, her mother panicking because of that, and fleeing from London with her daughter. But they are being followed by mysterious beings, one of whom may not be the enemy.

We later learn Mab’s story, why she is running away, why she is so fiercely protective of her daughter. And it’s a tale of terror, let me assure you. Mab grew up, we find out slowly and with much horror, among a group of immortal demons, the Druj. They are fascinated by children, not being able to reproduce themselves or, indeed, age. So the way Mab grew from a baby into a child into a young woman entertained the Druj queen for a while. And then, after an already terrifying childhood, things get worse.

Apart from Mab’s story, we also learn more about the Druj and their rituals, their magic, their shape-shifting from one of their own, Mihai. It is pretty clear from the start that Mihai is not quite like the others, but the way his story unfolds, bit by bit, sometimes hidden away, was just fascinating. While Esmé and Mab’s running away from the Druj hunters is a framing story, it also ends up bringing the three sub-plots together and making a beautiful whole.

I took a while to warm to this story, especially because the other two had set the bar so high, but when I did, I felt fully at home in the cold world of stone spires where the Druj live. The characters were fantastic, even the ones you would normally see as a villain in a fairy tale. Nobody is only what they seem, everyone has at least one more layer that we get to discover, and probably many more layers we don’t see. But they all felt like real people, even the Druj. My favorite part of this story was how Laini Taylor played with imagery and colors. The Druj’s icy blue eyes, Mab and Esmés red hair, the monsters’ pale arms… wolves, eyes, ravens, and cages. I absolutely loved this.

So, all things (and stories) considered, I have nothing to complain about. This book is beautifully written, with a nice design and lovely art, and a way of weaving myth and fairy tale into three very different settings and eras. All the while, Taylor offered up a riveting plot wrapped in exquisite language. Send more of this, and send tons of it!

MY RATING: 8,5 – Excellent!

Look at more gorgeous art by Jim di Bartolo;

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save