At first glance, it seems like this week's books have nothing at all in common. A dark, magical novel about a girl torn between two worlds, and a grimly truthful memoir about a boy growing up in poverty--yeesh. But: I've been meaning to read both of them for what seems like forever. Yes, Daughter of Smoke and Bone has been out for four months and Angela's Ashes has been out for nearly thirteen years, but time is relative, right? Anyway, these books were excellent--if there was a 4.5 star option on Goodreads, that would have been my rating for both of them.
(Also, here's a perk of waiting 13 years to read a book: as soon as I finished Angela's Ashes, I started reading 'Tis, whereas the big news this week is that Laini Taylor has announced the title to the sequel of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. For those who haven't seen it yet: it's Days of Blood and Starlight.)
Without further ado--here's what I read this week
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I know people have been excited to hear my reaction to this one. So let me explain the four stars, which seems to be a shockingly low rating for a book that topped the "best of 2011" lists of so many people I enjoy. This book started at a disadvantage with me. It's not that I don't do dark--it's just that I usually do it in dystopian/postapocalyptic ways. The human kind of evil, rather than the paranormal/angels/demons/high fantasy kind of evil that this story at least kind of is. But it reminded me of people I know and love--who have spent time in Prague, or love giant puppets, or who move like gazelles. So as far as it went down the paranormal/fantasy path, it also kept setting off tiny echoes of reality. And I followed those echoes down the rabbit hole.
What I'm saying is--this book written with any details altered? Might have been a three. Or might have lingered, half-read, on the shelf.
But it was written by Laini Taylor--and I bow before her. I am a word nerd. I am. I collect words and I love them, and I met old forgotten friends in these pages, and found some new ones. I've never read a book in which the author so consistently used the exact word--and only the exact word, without ever settling for a substitute--that was called for.
And also, by the time I was done, it didn't feel as...fantastical, at least not in the way I find off-putting. I think I sometimes struggle to feel the stakes in fantasy, if they're too huge and sweeping or elven or whatever. But this book never lets you forget for a second the ties between the big, alien, faraway things--war, angels, pain tithes--and the immediate human things--family, school, friends. It also has just enough of our world laid into the struggle between angels and chimaera (in how many countries on earth has land changed hands back and forth, with each new and previous owner claiming sovereignty? In how many cultures are people sorted and segregated based on appearance?) to make the issues in the book feel important to the part of my brain that thinks about things outside of books--but it doesn't go overboard with the symbolism, because the point is the story.
Anyway, thanks to the dozens of people who raved about this--I probably would not have picked it up, or kept with it in the beginning of the book, without you. And I'm definitely glad I did. I want more!
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourtMy rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was surprised by how un-maudlin and, frankly, funny this book is. It also reads more like a YA novel than a typical memoir--the first-person present-tense narration by a narrator who's between the ages of 2-19 or so as the book progresses. Obviously, there's really awful hardship and family tragedy, but the way it's written saves it from too much sentimentality. It read a bit slower than my normal books, but not in a bad way...I found myself thinking about it on my way down to the subway and between classes. I'm already onto 'Tis, which I'm enjoying a lot as well.
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Waiting in the wings:
McNally Jackson. I convinced him that I should be able to buy one book, to support indie bookstores. We left with three--a volume of Neil Gaiman's Sandman for him, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford for me--and Cinder, because when Mr. S saw a China Mieville book he'd been meaning to read, he decided he wanted it on his Kindle instead, but then felt guilty about that so he told me to get a second book to make up for it. I liked that logic just fine, especially because now I can read Ash and Cinder back-to-back, and maybe even go back to some of the literary theory I researched when I taught a class on Fairytales and Mythology last year. I'm a super-nerd. Oh well.)