BOOK TALK: Old Favourites, Part Three

CT blog pic

Hey, y’all… I don’t want to alarm anyone, but it is almost MAY. Did you know that? MAY. Sweet pineapples, where has the year gone?

April, May, and June are the release months of some new books I am MOST excited about in 2015. In fact, The Girl At Midnight comes out tonight…at midnight! Look how that works out. I have been YEARNING to get my grabby hands this book since I heard about it last year, and now it’s tomorrow! YAY.

(Yes. I am the girl who marks book release dates in her calendar and makes countdowns and follows an author’s works for years beforehand. Is that weird? Abnormal? I thought I’d made it clear that I am both of those things.)

Because I’ve been bouncing with anticipation all day, I thought I’d channel my book energy into another post about some books from my “All-Time Favourite” shelf.

HERE. WE. GO.


DOSABDaughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Genre: YA Fantasy  Published: September 2011

Amazon | GoodReads

Shan’s Stars: 5 STARS

About The Book: Around the world, black handprints 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 grown 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?”

While writing this review, I tried to find words to pinpoint why exactly I love this book so much- it’s not just because the main character has blue hair, I swear! Though, if there was a way to make MY hair permanently blue, I would definitely do it, make no mistake.

This book is beautiful and poignant and surprising, kind of like meeting an child with an old soul, or someone who is wise beyond their years. There may be other books out there that have this specific story and flavor, but if there are, I haven’t found them yet. And after reading Daughter… I’m not sure I want to look. This book has what I need. I LOVE stories that take well-worn tropes or oft-beaten horses and turn them inside out. It’s kinda of a thing of mine.

The rules of Taylor’s world are so fresh. Maybe even unexpected? The folklore she explores and the twists she uses and the characters she writes are all so wild- all of those thrown together make for a compelling story that is difficult to read in small doses. Plan for a book hangover with this one.

Karou is lovely and smart (which I adore) and the author doesn’t shy away from EXPLAINING the fantasy world or the rules, which is also a huge plus for me. I’ve said it a million times before and I won’t stop- vagueness for the sake of looking clever drives me craaaaazy.

All in all- Daughter is the gorgeous beginning to a deep story, and while “An Angel and a Devil fell in love” may seem like a story that has been told many times over, the author found a way to make each part of her story aching and new and irresistible. Taylor leaves no character’s arc or past untouched, so this is definitely not your “run-of-the-mill” fantasy story where the reader is only supposed to care about the main character and their narrow point of view.

Gold Mine: This may not count for book one of a trilogy, but I’m saying it anyway- I am obsessed with Karou’s relationship with her best friend. It’s fun and real and kind and ridiculous. So many fantasy stories have main characters with friends and family left out of the loop or dropped from the character’s life once the story begins but not in this book. So often, we are asked to care about a character’s emotion for their people without knowing the people in the book and I think that is so boring. I though that was what was going to happen in this story, but then it didn’t and having Karou’s awesome best friend, Zuzana, be a part of the journey thrilled me to no end.

For Fans Of: folklore, magic, BLUE HAIRS, Once Upon a Time, and anyone with wanderlust in their soul.


cold tangerinesCold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist

Genre: Memoir/Inspirational Published: October 2007

Amazon | GoodReads

Shan’s Stars: 5 to Shauna, always.

About the book: “Cold Tangerines is a collection of stories that celebrate the extraordinary moments hidden in our everyday lives. It is about God, and about life, and about the thousands of daily ways in which an awareness of God changes and infuses everything. It is about spiritual life, and about all the things that we have called nonspiritual life that might be spiritual after all. It is the snapshots of a young woman making peace with herself and her life, and trying to craft a life that captures the energy and exuberance we long for in the midst of the fear and regret and envy we all carry with us. It is both a voice of challenge and song of comfort, calling us upward to the best possible life, and giving us room to breathe, to rest, to break down and break through. Cold Tangerines offers bright and varied glimpses of hope and redemption, in and among the heartbreak And boredom and broken glass.”

I can’t say much about this book without weeping or laughing or telling you too many personal stories in a row, so I’ll just leave you with a couple quotes from the book, because that is the only true way to let you feel what this book is, and also this one thing: I have been teased my entire life for being SO different and unique and crazy and unexpected… this book helped me OWN that trait and love it. I don’t shy away from the “Shannon” of it all anymore, because who I am is crazy and loud and colorful and sparkly and wild and I SO do not meet society’s criteria for “Adult” and I do not apologize for that anymore- I embrace it and dare anyone to tell me I’m wrong.

I don’t really care much or meet most of society’s criteria for “Christian” either. I am a wildly loving and inclusive Christian in a world that keeps trying to tell me to follow the RULES and how those RULES should dictate my heart. Nope, no thank you. MY rule is this: love and kindness and serving and creating a safe-haven for those who need it.

If you have a heart like that and search for beauty, daily, in an ugly world- this book is totally for you. I love it. In fact, it has been too long since I’ve read it. Lately, I’ve been weighed down with stress and bills and hard choices, so I’m off to reread it and take new inspiration from my old favourite.

From the book:

“I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.” -Shauna Niequist, emphasis mine

“Celebration when your plan is working? Anyone can do that. But when you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that’s when you start to learn what celebration is. When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that’s celebration.” -Shauna Niequist, emphasis mine

Gold Mine: This book is beautiful because it told me, at a time when I REALLY needed to hear it, that life doesn’t have to stop being fun and crazy and spontaneous and colorful when you “grow up.” Dreams and crayons and pure joy aren’t only for children, if only we can see the loveliness and the joy to be had, daily, because such beauty is EVERYWHERE. One last quote, for the artists and creators who are stuck or needing a push:

“To all the secret writers, late-night painters, would-be singers, lapsed and scared artists of every stripe, dig out your paintbrush, or your flute, or your dancing shoes. Pull out your camera or your computer or your pottery wheel. Today, tonight, after the kids are in bed or when your homework is done, or instead of one more video game or magazine, create something, anything. Pick up a needle and thread, and stitch together something particular and honest and beautiful, because we need it. I need it.”- Shauna Niequist, emphasis mine

For Fans Of: Anne Lamott, Carry On, Warrior, soul connections, people who think real life is full of stories just waiting to be told, baking or cooking, Jen Hatmaker, and, of course, the delight of a cold and juicy tangerine.

Here is to a life full of color and joy, not because it is what you are given, but because it is what you have MADE. Cheers!

-S

BOOK TALK: The First Books, Part One

(Because this original post got lengthy, I chose to break it in two. Have fun!)

UPDATE: HERE is part two.

Book Talk 1

Okay, lovelies. The people have SPOKEN and what the people said was “BE MORE SPECIFIC.” Geez, alright. I couldn’t narrow down just one book to be my first review because I’m a big ol’weirdo who can’t choose ONE book to be that important. Absolutely no one is shocked by this, my weirdness.

So, surprisingly and delightfully, my first Book Talk post sparked some really fun conversations about books within my family, and I decided to add Mom’s fave and Dad’s fave to my 2015 reading list. Yikes. Obviously, asking someone what their favourite book or movie or song is can be impossible and paralyzing. So many choices! So many genres! So many decades of art!

However, I’ve come up with a lovely way to help focus that question into a manageable choice….for my mother. My father sent me an email a few days later with a list 24 titles long. So, you know. I had varied success.

Any art lover has a favourite per genre, year, mood, season, or era of life. With that in mind, here is what I’ve asked my people when I want to get ONE book rec from them: What is the book you want people to read that maybe no one has really heard of?

You’d think that doesn’t happen nowadays but it totally does. The world and internet and information available is vast, but we all still manage to find our little corners and stay there. Even book lovers seeking book news can only retain so much.

That was for them. For me? I chose some books I know people have heard of, but my tribe is all over the place and I don’t know who pays attention to which genre. Memoirs and supernatural fiction are my thing, so I have those down easy. I also have historical fiction and cookbook recs for later on BECAUSE THAT’S ME, Y’ALL. Ridiculous. All. Over.

I don’t just throw all books at everyone. No, I tailor the choices to my darlings based on what I know of them and their likes. Banana doesn’t read contemporary YA, but I shoved Fan Girl at her eyeballs until she read it because LITERALLY MY SISTER IS CATH. L.I.T.E.R.A.L.L.Y.

The following books are great enough satisfy any reader, I think, but especially if you like quick wit, sass, plot twists, protagonists who don’t abide by the rules of society…you know. The fun stuff.

((QUICK SIDE NOTE: I’ll include the genre of any book I write about, because information is groovy, but you’ll NEVER hear me say, “It’s YA…but you’ll like it.” Nope nope nope. Not here for that. YA has good AND bad stories, just like every other genre and I’m tired of hearing YA be criticized like it’s some kindergarten level nonsense. Stop. It’s not. There are YA books with complex depths, themes, written by authors with spectacular style and talent. There are adult books that seem to have been cobbled together by a sugar-crazed toddler and edited by the sleep-deprived parents. And vice versa. All genres have bestsellers and duds. That’s the fun part, though, right? That’s the gravy. Reading ALL the books to find the pot of gold.))

Someone shut me up. Here we GO!


TRB

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Published: September 2012

Amazon | GoodReads

About the book: “Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.”

You guys. YOU GUYS. I really and truly CANNOT with how much I love this series. A friend whose recs I trust explicitly told me to read this immediately. So I did. I read it quickly and when it was over, I literally thought what the everloving nonsense did I just read???  And then I went back and read it again, slowly, and… and… I haven’t really stopped since?

I think Maggie does this on purpose, somehow.  She frequently mentions how she read and reread her childhood favourites, finishing the last page only to turn the book over and immediately start it again. Boys is wonderful and crazy the first time through and it only gets better each time.

One of the best things you can say about any book is that the back copy ain’t even the half of it; very, very true in this case. Here is a link* from someone who has the same problem with description that I (and the author herself!) do.

There are psychics. There are rich boys. There is talk of true love. But there are also race cars, helicopters, magic forests, punching, trees that speak Latin, and MAGICAL KINGS. Plus, when was the last time you read a book in which the author promises to kill a main character** on page one of chapter one?

READ. THIS. BOOK. And when you do? Slow down. Take your time. Listen to the lullaby of the prose and pay attention to how the author (an actual painter) paints this world for you. The biggest compliment I give this series is that I honestly think there is not a sentence, word, or punctuation mark that was not fully intentional and thoroughly planned. Read slowly and melt into the southern drawl of the tale.

And then CALL ME and TALK TO ME ABOUT IT. Sweet baby Moses on bicycle, my people are truly terrible about that.

Gold Mine: The metaphors Maggie uses to explain an emotion or a setting. She writes her characters’ reactions in a way that is shocking for its elaborate simplicity. It’s almost like she sneaks into your brain, finds the memory she needs and says, “HERE. This feeling you had, this heartache, this euphoria? This is how they feel right now, too.”

STAY OUT OF MY BRAIN, MAGGIE.

For Fans Of: sweet tea, porch swings, Salvador Dalí, and maybe The Once and Future King. Maybe. This series mirrors a lot of the Arthurian legend…. with funky funhouse mirrors.

*I link to that post with the caveat that it contains no spoilers AND with the hope that you know better than to look into the later books of the series without reading Boys first. Don’t be a spoiler person. It’s bad for the world.

**Don’t you dare Sean Bean me. I KNOW.


TOG 1

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas 

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy Published: August  2012

Amazon | GoodReads

About the book: “In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king’s champion.

Her name is Celaena Sardothien. The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass–and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.

I discovered this book late last year, and because I am a book snob and kind of a jerk about flash-judging books based on blurbs (see above) and covers (see part two), I really didn’t think it would be all that good. Totally happy to report that I am an idiot and this series is more than just “good.”

I like authors who are not afraid to take the time to build their narrative and world slowly. It drives me NUTS when fans demand what they want and they demand it NOW, instant gratification style. I hate that in an audience. Chill out, dudes. Let the story be a story, not a haiku.

Anyway… That doesn’t mean this book moves slowly or that it takes a long time to be interesting. Not at all. Glass is the first book in six book series. With each book, Maas deepens the stakes, reveals so many twists and pulls apart the world she created, layer by layer, to show you exactly what it contains. Each layer is lovely and interesting on its own, but Mass is definitely not showing all her cards in book one.

All that being said– yes, the first book skims the surface of her world and moved a tiny bit too quickly through the plot for me, but it is still worth reading immediately. I feel like she skimmed on purpose to take time to introduce readers to the key players. Celaena is by no means the only main character, so don’t let the cover fool you. In Glass, Maas establishes the rules before she dives in deeper to break them.

(Shannon? Party of Me?)

As a reader, if you’re trying to rebuild your fantasy universe inside my head… give me some time and give me a lot of good information. I’m here for you, authors who do this. I’ll wait while you build and slowly tell me the story.

Gold Mine:  Celaena. I love that she appreciates fashion, wears jewelry, and can still kick your ass seven different ways to Sunday. She is able to be both, to have varied skills, and she never apologizes for that. AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR ANTIQUATED GENDER NORMS. Especially Celaena.

For Fans Of: whip-smart characters, Dumbledore’s obstacle course to the Stone, GracelingAliasThe Scarlet Pimpernel, Final Jeopardy! domination, and an Alexandre Dumas book I can’t name because SPOILERS.


Finishing up… some quick thoughts on my 2015 Reading Challenge books so far: 

(I may do full reviews at some point, but maybe not. I think I’ll keep posts like these for books I think you should read IMMEDIATELY. The following books are not those, so far. I like to let a book simmer for a while in my brain before I give it my exuberant YAS GURL YAS treatment.)

defiance The Defiance Trilogy by C.J. Redwine: A series that is too on the nose but also awesome? And only on the nose because that’s how it should be but no one says it and Redwine does? I don’t know. I really can’t decide.

It’s not that her theme was too preachy, per se, it’s just that a lot of what she wanted her books to SAY, she was too heavy-handed with instead of letting the book say it softly. I prefer a subtler approach, but I enjoyed the variety of characters and Redwine’s post-apocalyptic world.

Gold Mine: The author’s refusal to use worn-out tropes to further her plot or to use forced inefficiency/stupidity for tension. Like when you’re watching a horror movie and yell, “If you think there is a murderer in your house, turn the lights on!! LIGHTS. ON. TURN THEM ON!!”  Redwine doesn’t keep any lights off in her book, if you know what I mean. I loved it. That refreshing aspect alone will probably make me recommend this series, once it has simmered a bit more in my mind.


aoyAll Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrell: This book is for readers who don’t like too much depth. I say that nicely. I like depth and yearning and being immersed in the details.This book is clever, twisty, and fun to read, but it takes place mostly within a three day period. A story told at such a breakneck speed doesn’t leave room for much depth. If you devour time-travel books like I do, you’ll like this.

Alright. That’s enough, Shan. Cheers!

-S.