Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (September 27, 2011)
Source: Own

From Goodreads:

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 otherwordly war. 

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

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

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is one of the most original stories I have read in a long time. While classically inspired by a Romeo and Juliet romance arc, the way it was adapted was so interesting and intriguing, that it felt fresh, new, and original. 

After reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I just want to open up Laini Taylor's head and peer inside. The creativity she demonstrated through this story is inspiring and I await future books still in awe from this one. Unfortunately, the unique world she built makes it difficult to describe. I'm at a loss on how to convey the story and world she created. 

I always enjoy when stories take me to new places, real and imagined. This book did both. While set in Prague, the reader is transported to both the Czech Republic as well as the fantastical places that Karou visits. She has one foot firmly planted in the "real" world and one in the magical realm. Her discovery of this realm's secrets are well-paced, so the reader is still grounded while uncovering the mythology.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor knocked my socks off. One of my favorite reads of last year. I highly recommend it to YA fans that enjoy fantasy, romance, and/or awesome stories. 

Final thoughts: Buy.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Defiance by C. J. Redwine

Title: Defiance
Author: C. J. Redwine
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (August 20, 2012)
Source: Library

From Goodreads:

Within the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city's brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father's apprentice, Logan--the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same one who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but a fierce belief in her father's survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.

At nineteen, Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city's top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor's impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can't be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

Defiance by C. J. Redwine was definitely a pleasant surprise. I found it when I was looking for an interesting YA romance and, oh my goodness, was this book right up my alley! What I got wasn't exactly what I expected, but I couldn't have been happier with the book or finding such a great debut author. 

I immediately fell in love with the story, setting, and characters. I had picked it up hoping for a good story with romance, but I got so much more. I was actually surprised by how muted the romance was compared to the summary above. Don't get me wrong, romance plays a role, but I wouldn't consider this a romance book. This is an adventure-oriented fantasy with action, romance, and superb story telling. Fans of historical fiction may enjoy this as well because of the setting. The culture and setting is more traditional, with gender stereotypes, but there is also originality with how the characters interact in that environment.  

The story is compelling, but it was the characters that wouldn't let me put the book down. Told alternatively from Rachel and Logan's perspectives, the readers have the opportunity to see more of the adventure, because the characters are separated at different points and time. And, both Rachel and Logan are strong, interesting characters. Usually, I prefer one perspective over the other, but here, I was equally pleased to read from each viewpoint. 

Seriously, C. J. Redwine got into my head, figured out everything I wanted in a book, and cranked out Defiance to meet those needs. Successfully. I can't tell you how satisfying a read this was for me. I am fully committed to following her career and super excited to read Deception. I highly recommend Defiance for fans of fantasy, romance, and cool stories. 

Final thoughts: Buy it. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

If I Stay & Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Title: If I Stay; Where She Went
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Speak (April 10, 2012)
Source: eBook (own) & Audiobook (Library)

I first read If I Stay & Where She Went by Gayle Forman a few years ago and was absolutely blown away. This story was the most gut wrenching, heartbreaking, and emotionally provoking story I'd ever read and that's still true today. One thing I loved (and hated) about these books was that I couldn't tell how they would end. Of course, I had in my head what I wanted to happen, but I wasn't sure whether or not it actually would. Oftentimes, when I read a book, there are certain things I can expect, such as the main character won't die, love will prevail in the end, etc. However, with If I Stay and Where She Went, I couldn't be sure. The very nature of the subject matter proved that life isn't fair and I was sure that was true not only of life in general, but in the life of the book as well. These books could break those "rules" because the story was told in a painfully honest way.

I vividly remember devouring each book in one sitting apiece, laying on my couch with tears streaming down my face. I was an emotional mess and I don't usually cry when reading. The way Gayle Forman got into these characters' heads was utterly believable and fantastic. I could feel all the emotions right with them. She tapped into such a delicate and emotionally riveting experience with care and sensitivity. When I say I was emotionally unbalanced for days, I'm not exaggerating.

Given the powerful experience it was to read these stories, one told from Mia's point of view, the other from Adam's, I was wary of picking them up again. I absolutely adored the story and appreciated that it didn't end with Mia's choice. We got to follow up on the aftermath as well. But, I wasn't sure I could take a reread, so I've stayed away from them for awhile.
However, when I started hearing the buzz of an If I Stay movie starring my favorite young actress, Chloe Grace Moretz, I knew I needed to revisit them. This time, I chose the audiobook versions. A wise decision.

I'd like to take just a second to marvel at the wondrous production for these audiobooks. I couldn't have been happier with the experience. Kirsten Potter and Dan Bittner were excellent narrators and I felt I was able to experience the books in a whole new way. Maybe it was because I already knew the story or that I listened to these in public, or maybe it was just because I'm in a happier place in my life right now, but I didn't react as intensely to the story this time around, which was a good thing. That's not to say that the audiobook is any less intense, but for me, my own imagination is more intense so the audiobook provided a little bit of distance so I could experience the story without becoming a puddle of goo. That said, I still got the raw emotional experience I was craving. 

If you haven't read If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman, do it. Now. If you have, maybe it's time for a reread. I highly recommend the audiobooks for doing so.

Final thoughts: Buy multiple copies. Keep for yourself and pass out to friends.