Friday, December 16, 2011

Book love

If you're still shopping for gifts or receive a gift certificate or just plain want a good book, well, have I got suggestions for you! I picked a few of my favorite reads this year, which I reviewed on Goodreads or, perhaps, even here before. But these deserve a second shout-out.

I've rarely been drop-to-my knees floored by a debut author, but I am this time. Tahereh Mafi not only weaves a riveting tale in SHATTER ME, she creates a character who grips my gut, tears at my heart. But the thing that made me almost gasp time and again was the stunning way she describes Juliette's emotional reactions.
When we meet Juliette she is a shell of a teen girl kept alive and half-sane by some inner strength. No one can touch her because of a strange affliction that will cause them pain or death if they do. She is kept locked alone in a cell.

The world-building in this dystopian future is not all that unusual but Juliette is.
Here are a few samples of sometimes stream-of-consciousness style, in which punctuation and numbers don't go by the book. The first comes after she's been alone for a much of a year and is inexplicably given a cellmate. When she offers him a blanket, he does the unexpected:
He takes it only to wrap it more tightly around my body and something is suddenly constricting in my chest. My lungs are skewered and strung together and I've just decided not to move for an eternity when he speaks.
When she is too slow to follow a soldier's orders and is beaten:
The walls are beginning to bleed into the ceiling. I wonder how long I can hold my breath. I can't distinguish words I can't understand the sounds I'm hearing the blood is rushing through my head and my lips are 2 blocks of concrete I can't crack open...
And when she collapses:
I'm in the air. I'm a bag of feathers in his arms and he's breaking through soldiers crowding around for a glimpse of the commotion and for a moment I don't want to care that I shouldn't want this so much.
Mafi's character development and beautiful style are unforgettable.
WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE is what might be known as a quiet book--a middle grade, historical fiction about a girl whose father is a traveling preacher. I usually read YA or adult fantasy/dystopian but, I was drawn in completely to Ollie's world and her huge heart and courage. And even though Tess Hilmo's writing is rich in detail and atmosphere, a sense of urgency and danger begins early and stays through the story.
I like that this book is never preachy, despite being about a family who travel from town to town to spread the gospel. Perhaps because Ollie's father is named Everlasting Love he is infused with compassion and a good-hearted nature that extends to all the family. That is not to say Hilmo's characters don't have faults and family squabbles--they do, and the dynamic feels authentic.
But when the family pulls their travel trailer into the small town of Binder, they find more than expected after Ollie befriends a boy whose mother is in jail for killing his father. Soon Ollie and her family are on the nasty side of intimidation from townsfolk who want them to leave.
My heart was captivated by their strength in standing up for what they believe is right.
Here are some samples of style:
Binder was a pitiful place, worn thin from years of want. It was exactly like all the other towns her daddy dragged them through. It was exactly the kind of nothing Ollie had come to expect.

Except, maybe, for that boy.

And about her daddy:
Reverend Love's voice was rich as molasses and deep as the Grand Canyon. It had power about it that made people reach into their pockets even when they didn't come with the intention of donating to the cause. He called it his trademark. Ollie's mama called it their only salvation.

Maggie Stiefvater made me cry. When I came to the ending of THE SCORPIO RACES I had a lump in my throat big as an island of chalk cliffs against black water, painful as the loss of a beloved. And it was the satisfying ache of a story well told, of characters one cares about after the book is closed.
I had thoroughly enjoyed her five earlier books (the Lament fairy stories and the Shiver werewolf tales), but THE SCORPIO RACES is her masterpiece, carved out of myth and painted with blood.
She has written on her blog what it took for her to write this story after many years of trying and not finding it. I think you’re best served to read her words on that.
Her book proves that this time she was as ready to take on this tale as her protagonist Kate “Puck” Connolly and her mare Dove are to face the savage, killer water horses in the deadliest race ever devised. Puck must win to save her home, but she is the first female to attempt the race and many don't want her there.
I kept thinking as I read this how fleshed out and achingly real her characters are, how grounded the sense of place, how authentic and thrilling the equine detail. And how seductive and terrifying are the water horses.
When my heart wasn’t in my throat it was lost to this wild place.
The story is told first person from Puck’s POV and from that of Sean Kendrick, a young man who loves horses but most of all his water horse, Corr, and what that love costs him.
Here are some writing samples to give you a feel for the atmosphere and thrill of this book:
The wind is sucking the sound away from me, so as I approach the scene, it seems as if the men are voiceless. The struggle is almost artful, until you get up to it. It’s four men, and they’ve snagged a gray water horse around its neck and by the pastern on one of its hind legs, right above the hoof. They tug and they jump back as the horse lunges and retreats, but they are in a bad place and they know it.
And this:
The water shifts, black then gray-blue then black again, the froth of a white ruffled collar, and then, out of the froth, we all see it. A dark horse’s head surges above the water, jaw wide open. And then, before the sea swallows the first, we see a chestnut mare break the surface, along with a brief glimpse of a brown spine curving in the water alongside it. Then they’re all gone beneath the water and I have goose bumps creeping up my arms.
I’d read Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch and Dreamdark books and been enchanted by the freshness of her storytelling and her delicious way with words. 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, real depth of meaning and gorgeous style.
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.
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.


TerryLynnJohnson said...

thank you for these great suggestions! I love this list! I've only read Tess's masterpiece, so now I'm heading to my ebook to purchase these others. I've heard quite a bit about them, but this sold me now. Thanks for doing this list.

Unknown said...

I LOVED Shatter Me. Tahereh's use of language is brilliant. Why can't I write like that?????

I still have read Smoke & Bones, especially since I'm buying it from someone.

Julie Dao said...

You always have the best book recommendations, Tricia! I've heard about "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" from so many other bloggers - I'm going to have to read this asap! Have a great weekend!

Jemi Fraser said...

You're killing me! I have all 4 of these on my wishlist!!! :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

TerryLynn: I don't think you'll be disappointed. :)

Stina: I know! I thought the same thing as I was reading Shatter Me. Tahereh has such fresh ways of using language. so does Laini.

Julie: Laini is an amazing writer. I think you'll be entranced.

Jemi: Wish harder!

Stephanie Thornton said...

I haven't read any of these, but I keep hearing wonderful things about the Scorpio Races. I better get reading--I told myself I had to whittle down my TBR pile before I could buy any more books!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Stephanie: Read faster, faster! ;)

Unknown said...

I always appreciate good recommendations from you, very intriguing reviews.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Some good reads here! They all souind great to me - will add to my ever growing tbr list!

Liza said...

Thanks for these reviews. I have Shatter Me on my list but hadn't heard of the others. Looking forward to some good reads.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Laraine: Thanks. :D

Pat: That makes me happy to hear!

Liza: They're all spectacular. :)

Elizabeth said...

Stop by my blog if you like for an e-book giveaway and many newest being a review of THE WICKED WIVES.



Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Elizabeth: thanks for stopping by. I'll check it out.

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

I fell in love with Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I can't wait until enough time has gone by that I can read it again fresh. Excellent suggestions and reviews!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Carol: Yes, exactly! I will read each of these books again (and maybe again)

Christina Lee said...

Fantastic Choices!!!!!! All on my list and began reading two of them!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Christina: YAY!

Angela Ackerman said...

Smoke and Bone was my favorite book of the year I think! And, I won an arc of Shatter Me and it's in the mail! PERFECT Christmas Prezzie, or what?

Hope you have an absolutely wonderful Christmas! Enjoy some R & R & R (rest, relaxation & reading!)


Tess said...

Aw, thanks Tricia! So SO nice of you to include With a Name Like Love on your list. It was a loooong journey for me (as you know) and such a piece of my heart so it's cool to have pals connect to the story. Hope you have a great holiday!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I love book recommendations! Thanks for these. I am in the middle of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. I can't remember when I've been so intoxicated by a novel. Loving it. THE SCORPION RACES is next up, now that I've read your review. : )

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Angela: You are going to have such a fabulous holiday reading time. I wish you a great New Year, my friend.

Tess: You deserve thousands of shout-outs for that moving story. It's a beauty. May your holidays brim with joy.

Cynthia: Intoxicated! Perfect word. Yes, yes, yes, get hold of a copy of The Scorpio Races and hang up for another fantastic ride. :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

ooh yeah, almost all of these are on my "To read" list. I hope i get a few for christmas

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Sarah! I hope you find them under the tree and get to snuggle up with them for a long winter's read.