Review: Days of Blood & Starlight

July 29, 2017


This review contains spoilers for Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

 

“I am one of billions. I am stardust gathered fleetingly into form. I will be ungathered. The stardust will go on to be other things someday and I will be free.”

 

Oh hey, have you met Laini, goddess of pink hair and beautiful prose, who has unequivocally established a spot in my top, let us say three, favourite authors of all time? Am I being too dramatic? Maybe. But also no, because seriously. My mind has been blown yet again by Laini Taylor’s almost painfully beautiful writing, her boundless imagination, and her relatable and emotionally charged characters.

Here’s the synopsis:

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?

One of the difficult things about picking up an established series years after the initial hype is that enough time has passed for the negative reviews to float to the surface. Days of Blood & Starlight is one such book that seems to have a lot of mixed reviews and I couldn’t help but worry they may influence my opinion before I even began. Like many reviewers, I adored Daughter of Smoke & Bone, the first book in the trilogy, and really hoped this would be a worthy follow up even if it was said to be much different than the first. Truthfully, it was very different but in the end that took nothing away from how much I became completely smitten with it.

I think the main complaint I hear about this book is the lack of romantic development between Karou and Akiva after the intensity of their romance in Daughter. I for one was completely unbothered by this and actually really enjoyed how Laini flexes her literary muscles and shows us how huge a scope this story is beyond just our two beloved characters. I also love a good slow burn romance and after how explosive their love was in the first book, I was happy for this step back to allow it to build up again. The anticipation is half the beauty in my opinion. There is a time for love and a time for war, and Laini says it is the latter for now.

It’s so refreshing to me how Laini challenges the classic archetype of the beautiful, majestic angel equals morally good and the grotesque beast equals evil. In a bloody war spanning a thousand years, there are souls of all kinds amongst both the beautiful Seraphim and the monstrous-looking Chimaera. There are angels with souls as vile as they come and monsters that have souls like “fireflies in a garden”.

While the tone is bleak and often startlingly brutal, the main characters offer strong morality which feels like small beacons of hope in a dreary landscape. I was filled to the brim with feeling for the loyalty shown between friends and brothers and the great acts of sacrifice they make for each other. More than a few moments made me want to weep and hold these characters and cover their pain.

Old characters are developed beautifully and a few important ones are introduced for the first time. I could write an entire post on Ziri, the young Kirin and the last of Karou/Madrigal’s kind in original form. He is precious and adorable and I’m terrified to find out how everything works out for him. And Mik and Zuzana are seriously couple goals, you guys. They have the cutest, most sarcastic banter and I just loved every moment with them.

I’m so anxious to find out how Laini resolves this epic tale and luckily for me I won’t have to wait (one of the good things about reading an already completed series!). I have a feeling this one will be going on the list of favourite series of all time.

 

My rating: 5/5 stars

 

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Title: Days of Blood & Starlight

Author: Laini Taylor

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Genre: Fantasy

Review: A Million Junes by Emily Henry

July 16, 2017



“Letting go is not forgetting. It’s opening your eyes to the good that grew from the bad, the life that blooms from decay.”


Synopsis: 

For as long as Jack “June” O’Donnell has been alive, her parents have had only one rule: stay away from the Angert family. But when June collides—quite literally—with Saul Angert, sparks fly, and everything June has known is thrown into chaos.

Who exactly is this gruff, sarcastic, but seemingly harmless boy who has returned to their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, after three mysterious years away? And why has June—an O’Donnell to her core—never questioned her late father’s deep hatred of the Angert family? After all, the O’Donnells and the Angerts may have mythic legacies, but for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them.

As Saul and June’s connection grows deeper, they find that the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers seem to be conspiring to reveal the truth about the harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations. Now June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored, and she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all the O’Donnells before her—to let go. 



A Million Junes took me quite by surprise in the best way possible. I was mildly interested when I first heard about it as being a YA romance about star-crossed lovers reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet and I picked it up expecting a cute, quick read. And for a little while it seemed my expectations were fulfilled because there is an abundance of quirky banter and teenage crushes. Yet it turned out to be so much more than that. It is striking how much this book was packed with a purpose, a real reason for being written. It is a romance, true, but as a whole it’s really more about the aftermath of the loss of a loved one and how grief makes its mark on people. It was quietly profound and deeply moving in a way that goes so far beyond the boundaries of genre.

As far as magical realism goes, Henry has it nailed. Magic is so flawlessly blended into the real world that it exists without question. I finished the book feeling like I should expect to see floating white orbs of memory and ghosts in my own house. And her writing was just so hauntingly beautiful. She contrasts an informal and youthful first person point of view with timeless, poetic prose. Some people struggle to enjoy purple prose but personally I love it when it’s done right. And Emily Henry has got it so right. It’s not so over the top that it’s distracting – just enough to lull me into a whimsical daze.

All stylistic considerations aside, the biggest impact the book makes is how it deals with personal tragedy. Henry’s private life is none of my business but at times I wondered if she has experienced firsthand the loss of a loved one because she writes some perfect examples of how to talk to someone who is grieving or enduring a major struggle. Like she really gets it and has maybe felt the sting of a wellmeaning friend who says all the wrong things. Whether or not she actually has, her insight rings true. Pay attention, because this is so important.

“I’m sorry. I’m useless, but I’m here.”

“‘Another sorry’s nothing,’ I say. ‘I’d give you something better if I had it.'” 

This. This is how you support someone in grief. I almost put the book down to give a real applause for how well Ms. Henry has put it into words. There is nothing one can say or should say to ease the pain of someone who has lost a loved one, no matter how much you care. You simply cannot fix a broken person. Ms. Henry beautifully shows how June and Saul are just there and saving space for each other. They give each other infinite time to heal or acknowledge that they may never feel better and that’s normal. I just loved this dynamic and it speaks of pure acceptance.

It definitely isn’t a perfect book at every moment – some scenes could have been edited out and it almost loses focus midway through when it jumps around through random family memories without any apparent connection. But I am so glad I stuck with it because when it all became clear in the end it hit me like an emotional punch to the gut, followed by the feeling of being wrapped in a warm embrace.

For anyone who has had to deal with more than their fair share of loss or heartbreak, this book is for you. And for everyone else, a lesson in how to be a true friend to someone who has experienced tragedy.

My rating: 4/5 stars 

 


Title: A Million Junes

Author: Emily Henry

Publisher: Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House

Genre: Young adult, romance, magical realism

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

July 6, 2017

'Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. 

It did not end well.'


Oh. Oh. How do I even put into words how much I loved this book?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone had been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for so long. Years, you guys. I'm not really sure what has prevented me from picking it up all this time – maybe because with regards to title and synopsis, for me it never really stood out from every other YA fantasy on my crowded shelves – never quite begged to be read. It sat there quietly for years, the cover and synopsis never doing it justice, and I was completely unaware of the gravity of feeling I would experience when I finally picked it up. And oh, the feelings. I laughed and wept and positively shivered with delight at the wonders to be uncovered in Laini Taylor's world of angels and monsters.

Karou is a blue-haired art student in Prague with a secret. Well, not so much a secret, because she doesn't hesitate to tell anyone that she was raised in the Elsewhere by magical beasts called Chimaera, and that her hair actually grows out of her head blue, or that she was born with tattoos of eyes on the palms of her hands. But she tells the truth with a sly smile which erases any credibility of her bizarre stories. Stories of Brimstone – a granter of wishes with the head of a ram and body of a lion who raised her from infancy, and for whom she collects teeth of all kinds, never knowing what they are used for.

While out on one of her errands for Brimstone, Karou is attacked by an angel who witnesses her dealing with teeth. Though a formidable enemy, the angel is stunned to find that Karou can defend herself and he lets her escape. Karou is left with questions that cannot be answered as she discovers that the angel, named Akiva, has destroyed the portals to Elsewhere where Brimstone resides, trapping her in Prague alone. Thus ensues a fast-paced race to find another way to reach her Chimaera family before the angel catches up to her to finish the deed he set out to complete. However, there are plenty of surprises for both Karou and Akiva along the way as well as the discovery of an age old war in a celestial place that threatens to spill over into our world.

 

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'We dreamed together of the world remade.'

Karou and Akiva. How to even begin to express how much they moved me. A mythological Romeo and Juliet, their love is pure and deep yet full of tragedy. I dreaded the inevitable moment that everything would fall apart for them, as foreshadowed on the very first page of the book. Taylor writes a love story so profound and astral in depth that it borders on unrealistic and fairytale-like. However, the heartfelt and potent emotion was enough to melt my cynical heart into a puddle and I therefore absolutely absolve her for using the love at (almost) first sight trope.

I really loved – ADORED – all of the major characters and am looking forward to seeing how they develop in the next books. Taylor has a masterful ability for breathing life into her characters so that they just exist in a vibrant way without having to do a lot of telling. While reading the book, lonely, unfulfilled Karou, feisty, tiny Zuzanna, and tormented Akiva seemed to come right out of the pages, pulsing with life and love and crushed dreams and hope.

I felt really immersed in the setting of Prague with its old architecture and quirky local haunts. What is it about old cities that is so atmospheric and full of soul? It brought out a bit of wanderlust in me and I now dream of walking those same streets one day. However once the story moved into the unearthly dimensions I felt this new setting was shrouded in mystery and it was more difficult to visualize. I look forward to hopefully finding out more about this place where Akiva comes from in the next books.

The themes here are ones that have been told and written about since the beginning of storytelling: forbidden love born of feudal families or races, a journey of self discovery. Yet Laini Taylor's dark, poetic writing style and attention to detail when fleshing out her characters creates a unique experience. A part of what makes that experience so gripping is the multiple third person points of view which overlap and sometimes repeat a narrative from each perspective. The tense moments become all the more heartfelt seeing it through the eyes of multiple characters. Taylor handles this masterfully like a puppeteer with several marrionettes and a weaker author would not have been able to pull it off so smoothly. It certainly speaks to Taylor's skill that it didn't feel disjointed or choppy.

I've written about my love for Laini Taylor's writing style in my review of her most recent release, Strange the Dreamer, where I gush about how stunning it is.  Now having read another of her books I can see that she truly is a rare talent and her books are works of art. I absorbed her beautiful prose into my being until it filled me right up with warmth. There's something about Laini's writing that feels cozy like a kindred spirit, even when telling gritty, gothic tales.

It really is difficult in retrospect to imagine Laini Taylor's books sharing shelf space with an ocean of fluffy YA fantasy – her books are so much more in every way. Her books have a spark of life and depth to them that make them weightier than their bindings and pages in the hand suggest. I cannot recommend this enough to those who love a gritty, urban AND mythological fantasy and books born of an unlimited imagination. I have lovingly placed this book among my favourites of all time.

My rating: 5/5 stars

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Author: Laini Taylor

Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, mythological fantasy, paranormal

Review: Fangirl 

June 29, 2017


“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t google.) Like, where does the line start? What food can you take? Where are you supposed to stand, then where are you supposed to sit? Where do you go when you’re done, why is everyone watching you?… Bah.”

Synopsis: 


Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?



I wasn’t going to write a full review on Fangirl for my blog because it isn’t a recent release, however when I started writing up my mini-review for bookstagram, the words just came pouring out and I had too many for an instagram caption.

Fangirl is my second Rainbow Rowell and has solidified my opinion of her writing that I began to form after I read Eleanor & Park – that she writes quirky, complex characters, and puts them into some interesting scenes that are enjoyable to read. However upon finishing a Rainbow Rowell book, I end up feeling like something was missing to tie all those quirky characters and scenes together into a bigger picture idea.

I did enjoy Fangirl more than E&P because I completely related to Cath as an introvert with social anxiety. I found myself nodding vigorously at some of the humorous situations her anxiety got her into because it’s so damn true. Like agonizing over the details of a first time experience; where do you line up in the cafeteria, where do you sit? What if you do it wrong?

I felt a lot of nostalgia reading this one because it captured the pop culture and fashion of the exact years when I was starting college. From black Ray Ban frames to Bon Iver and Lady Gaga, and of course the Harry Potter references (or the fictional fandom of Simon Snow). It was like a perfect little time capsule for late 80’s kids like me.

There were a couple of characters who irked me, but mostly just Levi. Levi is such a puppy, and I’m totally not a dog person. He literally just smiles and wags his tail at everyone all day long. I couldn’t understand why Cath forgave him for his big, lame mess-up either – I definitely wouldn’t have. I’m also not a fan (see what I did there…) of the trope “girl with low self-esteem captures the attention of a good looking boy and then she gains the confidence she needs to tackle her problems”. Levi is a total “manic pixie dream boy” for Cath and I wasn’t into it.
There was also a lot of seemingly pointless excerpts of fanfiction. I did enjoy much of it, but after a while I admit I skimmed through it. If there was some symbolic connection between the little scraps of Cath’s stories and the main plot, I didn’t pick up on it and I didn’t really care enough to dig.

I did enjoy reading Fangirl and would recommend it to those who love a light and entertaining contemporary read, and especially to the fandom-loving introverts of the world.

 

My rating: 3.5/5 stars

Title: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Genre: Young adult, contemporary

Review: Strange the Dreamer 

June 21, 2017

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

‘All the best stories are.'”


Synopsis:

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 or 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?

Welcome to Weep.

Sometimes you just know from the first chapter that a book is bound to be a lifelong favourite and for me that was Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. From start to finish it is warm and vibrant, pulsing with life and magic like a living breathing thing. It filled me to the brim with wonder.

I think I could write an entire review about Taylor’s beautiful, whimsical, masterful writing (however her loveable characters and vastly imaginative scope for world building and storytelling deserves their fair share of mention as well). Taylor’s prose is simply stunning. It’s beautiful in a way that pulls you in, fills you up, and makes you feel like you could maybe even create magic of your own. But what struck me most was how even though it was flowery, her prose flowed perfectly and drew me deeper and deeper into the story rather than distracting from it. It was the perfect balance between beautiful words and interesting storyline. It would seem that nothing is beyond the scope of Taylor’s imagination or her ability to pin it down and skillfully weave it into the story. Gods and monsters and battles that reach the very skies. I’m still in awe when I reflect on how it all came from one woman’s mind.

 

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I experienced Strange the Dreamer like slowly unwrapping a beautiful present, hints being revealed here, there, until finally you’re holding a whole, lovely thing you never knew you needed. There are a myriad of details to be unearthed but Taylor goes easy on us and reveals them gradually. The plot was extremely well balanced and evenly paced. The story didn’t drag for one moment, as can sometimes happen in books of length written descriptively.

Now, I’ve always loved antiheroes. They make a story so much more interesting and fun. But Lazlo Strange, sweet, sincere, too good for this world, Lazlo, has made me consider that now and then its refreshing to read about a kind and uncynical main character. And though he may be naive in some matters, he doesn’t lack in complexity. He may be inherently good but he also has a rugged, primal kind of strength. And Taylor definitely doesn’t spare him from pain. Oh, I felt every injustice he experiences like a physical blow.

 

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There are some relevant and important themes that are explored: fear of those who are different, the impact that conquerors have on oppressed people groups, and the resulting need for redemption for their descending generations. Taylor shows how injustice and oppression can happen on both sides, blurring lines of who is right and who is wrong after the initial wrongdoing. There’s no black and white morality presented here and some interesting questions are raised. Are oppressed groups given the right to take their freedom at any cost, even if the same kind of brutality is necessary to do so? How long should children have to carry the weight of their parents’ sins?

Part of the magic of this book is discovering it for yourself so I don’t want to give much more away. But I absolutely cannot recommend this book enough to those of you who enjoy epic worlds and magic. I will be impatiently waiting for more word on the next instalment.

 

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My rating: 5/5 stars


Title: Strange the Dreamer

Author: Laini Taylor

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Genre: Fantasy