Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A sky of stars for Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Like Mandarin




I recently gave five stars on Goodreads to two very different books, DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE and LIKE MANDARIN. Both are gorgeously written and have characters and stories that have substance and linger in my memory so that I want to talk about them here, too.

I’d read Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch (a National Book Award finalist) and Dreamdark books and been enchanted. But now they feel like an overture for the magnificent symphony that is DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE. Ms. Taylor has brought it all to this work—unforgettable characters, gripping storytelling with surprising twists, depth of meaning and lyric, yet biting, style. (Example: His memories were knives, and he was not pleased to have them turned against him.)
I don’t even know where to begin, because I remain stunned by so many things in this story. The quirky main character, Karou, has a mysterious past, and her strange family deals in secrets she can only guess at. Taylor’s storytelling is like a trail of bread crumbs that lead us slowly, skillfully to the astonishing answers.
In a way, this is Romeo and Juliet among angels and demons, but it’s so much more than that. Taylor pits bigotry, hatred and war against hope, tolerance and love. And she does it all within richly-detailed human and fantastical worlds. I was both grounded and enchanted by her descriptions of places from the souks of Marrakesh and streets of Prague to the land of the chimaera.
My heart was ripped out at the end, but I don’t want to give much away, because I really hope you’ll all read this one. I can’t wait for its sequel.
Here’s a taste of the writing style:
A thrill along every nerve ending. Her body, alert and alive. She was hunted, she was prey, and she didn’t even have her knife tucked in her boot, little thinking she’d need it on a visit to the graverobber.
And this:
He stood revealed. The blade of his long sword gleamed white from the incandescence of his wings—vast shimmering wings, their reach so great they swept the walls on either side of the alley, each feather like the wind-tugged lick of a candle flame.


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LIKE MANDARIN is a contemporary YA debut by Kirsten Hubbard that I wish I’d read even sooner. It was released in March.
The Wyoming badlands are as much a character in this story as Grace or Mandarin--two teenagers who seem as opposite as day and night. This rocky, windswept landscape interrupted by barbed wire fences and small towns is a place with wide vistas but narrow viewpoints, where people like what's known and distrust what's new. I really like that Ms. Hubbard brings such authenticity to this contemporary YA story. These characters make bad choices and big mistakes but they help each other find what they're really looking for and, hopefully, change the course of their lives. This is a story that sticks to you for all the right reasons. Some beautiful writing, too.
Here's a sample of a badlands moment:
I'd wandered through the Washokey Badlands Basin so many times I'd memorized the feeling. The forlorn boom of wind. A sky big enough to scare an atheist into prayer. No wonder cowboys sang about being lonesome.

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Have you read them? Did they touch you, too?

39 comments:

Tere Kirkland said...

Both of these books affected me in different ways. Not only did I enjoy them, they also encouraged me not to change the way I write, that people will read YA books that are beautifully, lyrically written.

Even though they employ two very different writing styles, they're both so beautifully and powerfully written they brought me to tears more than once.

Glad you enjoyed them, too.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

I haven't read either book but they do sound fascinating.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Tere: Beautifully said, and I imagine from what I know of you that your stories have similar richness. Staying true to one's own style and stories is probably the most important thing a writer can do.

Pat: I hope you read them and enjoy as much as Tere and I did.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I'm DYING to read them both. Smoke $ Bone is one of the next on my list. :-)

Laurel Garver said...

I read Hubbard's Like Mandarin and was also really moved by it. I loved especially how she incorporated setting into the warp and woof of each character. it was also interesting how Grace begins to understand herself and family so much better because of her interactions--both positive and negative--with Mandarin.

Yat-Yee said...

I haven't read these books although I like Lips Touch very much. Five stars from you means I will definitely check them out.

I recently read some 5-star books. I should go write about them.

Mariah Irvin said...

I really want to read the first one! Saw it at the bookstore yesterday, but the display made it impossible to actually pick up any of the copies. So upsetting!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shannon: Oh, oh, oh, how I think you'll fall in love!

Laurel: Exactly--the setting was part of their lives. And, yes, I loved the way both of them began to see themselves and their world better through getting to know one another.

Yat-Yee: I'd love to hear what you're giving five stars to, and thank you. :)

Mariah: What??? The store was teasing with the display? Or maybe the shipment didn't come in....

Bish Denham said...

I have not read these and both sound very interesting. (Adding them to my list!)

Phoenix said...

I haven't read either book but DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE sounds quite fascinating. You really sold me on it with the comparison to Romeo and Juliet (I adore Shakespeare) and the ideas of bigotry and war vs tolerance and love are intriguing to me.

Great reviews (I love that include samples of the writing) and a great post :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Bish: You can hardly go wrong with these, even though I know there are as many opinions as people. Still, I think you're going to enjoy these.

Phoenix: I like to put in samples, because that's what I check out myself--you know, open the book and see if I like the style. This is not Romeo and Juliet, but I think if you read it you'll see why I made that remark.

Jemi Fraser said...

I really enjoyed Like Mandarin. It is so beautifully written - and so insightful too. I've had Smoke & Bone on my wishlist for a while now :)

Donna said...

Wow! Two five-star books in a row. I'll put them on my buy-for-Xmas list. Thanks.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jemi: The insights in Like Mandarin were so right for those characters. It felt authentic and very moving to me.

Donna: These are older YA, not younger kids, since there are sexual moments and heavy themes, just FYI.

VR Barkowski said...

I've not read either of these, but they're now on my tbr list. It never ceases to astound me how much more compelling and original YA is when compared to adult fiction.

Yeah, I write adult fiction. Don't remind me... :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

VR: These two are compelling, for sure. I think there are also YA books that are weak and adult books that are strong. I'm betting your stories are compelling!

Wen Baragrey said...

I would love to read both of these! I've already got the first one, and I'm going to order Like Mandarin from Amazon soon. I also want to read Kirsten's new one, Wanderlust.

MG Higgins said...

I haven't read either of these, but after reading your reviews I can see I'm going to be spending more money on books today. Sigh. :)

(Heh. My word verification is lactato--a lactating potato?)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wen: I don't think you'll be disappointed! Although, they both leave me feeling like, 'oh, if only I could write like that...'
I know, I know, that's self-defeating, but, geez, these are SO good.

Mel: Lactating potato!!!!! You are too funny and expect drawings will ensue.

Liza said...

These are stunning reviews...and now I have added books to my list. So well written Tricia. Thank you!

The Golden Eagle said...

Thank you for the reviews! :) I have to get around to reading both of these sometime--they sound like great books.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Liza: And I thank you!

GoldenEagle: They are so well written. I think you will really enjoy them.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I have Like Mandarin, but I still haven't read it. The problem is it has no romance in it and I love romance. So I have to be in the mood for no romance in order to read it. Yep, hasn't worked so well for me so far. ;)

Faith Pray said...

Smoke and Bone is next on my list! Laini Taylor is one of my favorite fantasy authors. I can't wait! Both books sound excellent!.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Stina: Yup, no romance. In fact, some anti-romantic moments, but it sure is a powerful story about what it means to grow up, to make mistakes and find out some truths in the process.

Faith: Yay! I love her work, too.

Donna said...

Thanks for the "older YA" warning.

Sarah Laurence said...

I like that first excerpt from Smoke and Bone. Like Mandarin sounds good too.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Both of these are on my list. Your comments make me want to read them even more :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Sarah: They are, they are.

Sherrie: Yay! I hope you love them like I did.

Suzanne Casamento said...

I'm not a fan of getting my heart ripped out, so I'm not sure I want to read Daughter of Smoke & Bone. But Like Mandarin sounds like a book I'd love. Thanks for the recommendation.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Loved DOSAB! :)
Great reviews.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Suzanne: Ha! I can understand the wanting to keep your heart where it belongs. ;)

Karen: Thanks!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I loved the Golin Fruit in Lips Touch. I keep hearing about Lani's next book! Must check it out! Like Mandarin has been in my TBR pile for a while now!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Terry: Me, too, I loved that goblin story. Happy reading!

Laurie Dennison said...

I love your quote choices; you really showed the power of Taylor's language. I've been looking for some powerful contemporary YA, so I will add Like Mandarin to my TBR list!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Laurie: Thanks for stopping in! I love to look for snippets in books I review, a sense of style is so important to me. Glad you enjoyed.

Rebecca B said...

Loved both of these books. They're very different, except for the quality of the prose and storytelling.

Kriston Johnson said...

I've been thinking about reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone for a while. If it's that good I guess I better get to it.

Tracey Neithercott said...

Great reviews! I agree with you about DAUGHTER. I love Lani Taylor's writing! I can't wait to read her other stories. I still haven't read LIKE MANDARIN yet, but I've heard it's wonderful. This reminds me to pick it up next time I'm at the bookstore.