Category Archives: Fantasy

A Most Improper Magick

Stephanie Burgis’s debut fantasy, A Most Improper Magick, The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson was excellent fun, exactly what I was hoping it would be. It was a frolic – a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Libba Bray with some Highwayman action tossed in for good measure. This is a book that does not take itself too seriously. I like that in a book.

Kat Stephenson has discovered she has inherited her mother’s magical powers. This is exciting, but it is also difficult, because in 1803 in London, magic is very much frowned-upon. Kat is not sure how to handle her new-found talents, and she has a lot on her mind because her eldest sister is likely going to be forced to marry an ancient but wealthy gentleman and also, a mysterious group of witches known as the Order is trying to convince Kat to allow them to give her proper magical training. Her brother Charles has gambled away much of the family’s money and her other sister Angeline is casting some irresponsible love spells and generally making a mess of things. Kat feels it is up to her to solve as many of these problems as possible, and she’s not afraid to use a little magic to do it. Did I mention there is a highwayman lurking in the woods? What fun!

I knew I was going to like the smart and funny voice of the narrator after the first two sentences:

“I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin. I made it almost to the end of my front garden.”

Burgis keeps it all light and clever and certainly communicates the Austen-like balance of frustration and love between the sister characters and the other family members. Kat is feisty and memorable. The other two sisters are not as well-developed overall, but I’m hoping to see that fleshed out in the second and third books in the trilogy. Some might find that there isn’t enough tension as the book advances, since most of the focus is on the romantic outcomes for Kat’s sisters, and ultimately, it’s Kat we care about the most. In some ways, this book feels like it’s primary purpose is to set-up what is to come in the next two titles. The social situations are amusing though, so I didn’t mind too much that the pace felt a shade slow towards the middle. As in Austen, it’s the conversations that entertain more than anything. This is a quick and charming read, with a heroine you will want to spend more time with. If, like Stephanie Burgis, your favourite movie is Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility and you’ve been known to enjoy a little Doctor Who, I think you will get a real kick out of this book and be eager for the next installments.

(Note: Based on something the author wrote at her blog, I’m not sure that this is going to be the title of the book when it is released in the U.S. We’ll see).

A Most Improper Magick will be published by Atheneum.

Silver Phoenix

If you are in need of a fantasy novel with some serious girl power, then I can’t think of a better choice than Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix. Pon’s debut could be described as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets great YA fantasy, like Kristin Cashore’s Graceling perhaps. However you characterize it, I’m sure you’ll be entirely wrapped up in Pon’s delicious blend of adventure, rich Chinese mythology and romance. This is a story to chase away mid-winter blahs.

It’s the tale of 17-year-old Ai Ling, who escapes the looming fate of an arranged marriage by running away on a quest to find her beloved father. She journeys towards the Palace of Fragrant Dreams, where she believes her father may be held against his will. Along the way, she meets Chen Yong, a young man with a quest of his own. She also discovers that she has a mysterious power. She is able to enter the minds of others, and sometimes, she can control their actions. Chen Yong and Ai Ling become traveling companions, and they face demons and gods bent on their destruction, along the way.

Cindy Pon has a real talent for dynamic action sequences. Yes, admittedly I have watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon oh, about 9 times, but I think that even without those images in my mind, I would have been impressed by Pon’s ability to conjure some awesome martial arts moments. There is a particularly memorable scene in which Chen Yong and his brother spar with one another. You can imagine every move in your head. Loved that. Li Rong (the brother) is particularly well-drawn. He’s funny and charming and a bit of a rogue. I admired that Pon managed to communicate a real richness in this world without getting bogged down in exposition. The details are revealed organically, which makes for smooth reading. And did I mention the food? Well, you better have a great take-out place that delivers dumplings and noodle soup when you start reading Silver Phoenix, because you will be wanting some as soon as Ai Ling gets hungry. Food pops in all throughout the narrative. Automatic bonus points from Shelf Elf.

I will be very eager to read the next book in this series (a trilogy? I can only hope).

Silver Phoenix is published by Greenwillow Books.

Raider’s Ransom

I’m not particularly partial to pirate tales, probably because there are so many pirate stories in children’s lit that I generally feel that it’s just been done, again and again. Funny, because as a child, I was absolutely head over heels for Arthur Ransom’s Swallows and Amazons series, all about trickery and adventure and sailing. That was probably my most-loved set of books when I was ten. I do like books with seaside settings, which made Emily Diamand’s Raider’s Ransom pique my interest straight away. When Scholastic sent me my review copy, I let out a little whoop of delight, because I remembered Fuse #8 mentioning it at her blog: “It’s funny, fun, and exciting. And there’s a smart cat. Gah! Read this!” If Betsy likes it, I’m in.

Diamand has created a futuristic 23rd century England, where as a result of global warming, most of the country is now underwater. It’s as if society has gone back in time, rather than ahead, breaking down into hostile factions, fighting to survive in a fragile and ever-changing environment. Technology has all but disappeared. Indeed, many blame the collapse and the flooding on their ancestors’ misuse of technologies. Lilly Melkun is a fisher, living in a coastal village, spending the days at sea with her trusty sea cat. One day while she’s out on the water, pirates raid her town and kidnap the Prime Minister’s daughter. Lilly decides to go after them to rescue the girl, and she brings a mysterious jewel-like device along with her, hoping to use it as ransom. She doesn’t know that she’s headed towards a war, and that she’ll meet a pirate boy named Zeph who could be friend or foe.

This one is a curl-up-and-sink-into-the-story type of book. In fact, it reminded me of some of my most beloved books read as a child, because as I was reading Raider’s Ransom, I had that feeling I knew so well as a kid, when I was swept up in the world of a story so completely that all thoughts and troubles of the real world disappeared. Diamond’s book is simply a great, absorbing yarn. She can write. It’s funny and creative and just descriptive enough to build places in your imagination, without slowing the action down for a moment. I wanted to see what would happen next, what treasures the writer had in store for me in the next chapter. Continue reading

WBBT: Laini Taylor – Characters, Creativity & Clementine Pie

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I am so, SO excited to be hosting Laini Taylor today for WBBT. *dancing elf* I am a giant, GIANT fan of Laini’s books, Blackbringer, Silksinger, and the National Book Award nominated, Lips Touch. Laini is one miraculously talented writer, and she’s an artist too. All of Laini’s novels have earned places on my “special shelf.” You know the shelf where you put the few books that you actually embraced once you finished reading them? Laini’s writing is that special. Laini blogs about her art and writing and other things besides at Grow Wings, and today she’s right here, chatting with me about creativity, her characters, and her pixie-faced baby daughter, Clementine Pie.

You might want to start off by reading my reviews of Laini’s books, just to get in the general spirit of celebration and excitement: my review of Blackbringer, my review of Silksinger, my review of Lips Touch. Good. Now we’re ready.

Welcome Laini!

In Silksinger, your latest novel in the Dreamdark collection, Whisper is a phenomenal character. She’s more than she seems. She’s a creative force. She’s bold when she needs to be. What do you most admire about her, and what was the first scene you imagined her in?

I dreamed up Whisper alongside Magpie and Poppy, before I even started writing Blackbringer. They were a trio, but I decided to save Whisper for another book—her own book. I knew that she would be a singer of flying carpets who [mild spoiler alert!] gets captured and held prisoner, and I knew she would be completely different than bold, brave Magpie. The first scene I imagined her in was in prison, though in the early conception, the power of her voice was even greater: she could whisper open passageways in solid rock. Which made it difficult to keep her prisoner, obviously. When writing magic, one must be careful not to give characters too much power, or there can be no tension! So, I scaled back Whisper’s power. (As for Magpie, she has to have a slow learning curve with her power, or else no villain would ever be a match for her.)

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(Here’s a picture of the paper dolls I made that were the earliest incarnation of the characters, before I even thought of writing the books. Left to right: Poppy, Magpie, Whisper; I drew and oil-painted them, with multiple outfits, and turned them into fully articulated dolls. I was obsessed with them for months!)

Something I admire about Whisper is her tenacity. From the first chapter of the book she’s thrust completely outside of her sphere of experience, into a nightmare, really. It’s so overwhelming and terrifying she really just wants to give up and join her loved ones in the Moonlit Gardens, but she doesn’t. She musters her courage and she tries. And tries. And tries.

It’s not a bad metaphor for writing a book! Here’s a great quote:

“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity.” – Louis Pasteur

In your acknowledgements in Silksinger you reveal the rather serendipitous way you found the name for your spooky devil general Ethiag. How do you name your characters? Do you have different sources of inspiration of do the names just come? How is naming a character the same as / different from naming your own child?

Yes, the word verification function on blogs is kind of a pain when you’re commenting, but I have gleaned quite a few cool-sounding words from it. So far Ethiag is the only one to find its way into a story.

I love naming characters. When I was a kid this was my favorite part of writing, and often was as far as I got. Now, I have lists in various notebooks—weird names I hear in the news or see in film credits; made-up names; names from other cultures, including languages I’d never even heard of until I stumbled upon them doing research—like Tamazight, the Berber language spoken by a character in my current book). Dreamdark names mostly come from nature: birds, plants, etc. Some are nature words in other languages. Kipepeo is Swahili for butterfly, and briefly mentioned in Blackbringer, Bellatrix’s mother was the Ice Princess Fidrildi, which is Icelandic for butterfly. (Do they have butterflies in Iceland?)

As for baby names, that’s so much harder than character names! With characters, you know you can always do a search/replace and change their name at the slightest whim. With babies, it’s got to stick. Jim would probably tell you I wasn’t fun when it came to naming Clementine. He was always thinking up new names, and I was always shooting them down. By the time I went into labor we had two to choose between and it took us a couple of days in the hospital to finally settle on Clementine. It’s inspired by Kate Winslet’s character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is also what inspired me to dye my hair, so I guess that movie made quite an impact on us. As for her middle name Pie, it’s in honor of Magpie, of course. We didn’t come up with that one until after she was born, when the other options we had in mind seemed suddenly not cute enough.

Lips Touch is a collection full of strong and complex female characters: Kizzy, Estella, Anamique, Esme, Mab and the Druj Queen. Who was the trickiest of these to create? Who would you especially like to write more stories about?

Each character presented their own challenges. Anamique was difficult because she doesn’t talk. It’s hard to give a character “voice” when they literally don’t speak! And the Druj Queen was tricky because she’s incredibly unsympathetic, but I still wanted the reader to care what happens to her. Kizzy was the character who came the most naturally, because I was sort of channeling (and exaggerating—slightly) my own long-ago teen angst and longing.

I could see continuing Kizzy’s story, because of the way it ends. I’m curious to know how readers take the ending: does it seem ambiguous, or do you have a pretty solid feeling of authorly intent there? What I was shooting for was ambiguity that leans in one particular direction, that is, where the reader comes away feeling, “This is probably what happens to Kizzy.” Still, I think there’s room to play there, and maybe some day I will pick it up and make Goblin Fruit the beginning of a novel. I’d like to see more of Kizzy, Cactus, and Evie, and certainly more of the goblins.

Anamique’s story feels complete to me so I don’t think I would revisit it, but I do hope some day to write a whole [unrelated] novel set in Raj-era India. I’m fascinated by that period, but I need to do a lot more reading and I need to travel in India before undertaking such a thing. Historical fiction is daunting; this was my first stab at it. What I’d really love is if someone could please invent a time machine just for writers of historical fiction. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?

As for Hatchling, I will certainly be writing more stories about the Druj. I have lots of ideas! Continue reading

Ice

IceCover_LoResI’ve been reading a lot of cold books lately: First Light, some nonfiction global warming stuff and now Sarah Beth Durst’s latest, Ice. Does this mean I am ready for winter? Don’t think so. I am enjoying my 14 degrees today, thank you very much.

I had planned on saving Sarah’s book for the Christmas holiday, but I just couldn’t wait after reading Laini Taylor’s recent rave recommendation. So, with very high expectations, I started reading last week. The verdict? Yes Laini, I agree. This one is a winner, and it would indeed be perfect winter reading, especially if you happened to have a giant magical polar bear to snuggle up to.

Cassie Dasent has had an entirely unusual upbringing. She has grown up at an Arctic research station, where her father is a research scientist who studies polar bears. Add to this rare sort of home life the fact that Cassie’s mother has been gone from her life since Cassie was only a little girl. Cassie’s grandmother used to tell Cassie a fairy tale about her mother, saying that Cassie’s mother struck a bargain with the Polar Bear King and then was swept away to the ends of the earth and imprisoned in a troll castle. Cassie always thought that her grandmother’s story was just something exciting and entirely imaginary that her grandmother created for Cassie rather than telling the little girl the tragic truth that her mother had died. Turns out, granny wasn’t lying. The proof? On her 18th birthday, Cassie meets a talking polar bear, the Polar Bear King, and he agrees to rescue Cassie’s mother from the trolls on one condition. Cassie must marry him. Cassie agrees to the deal, and so begins an astonishing adventure as Cassie journeys to the Bear’s ice castle and eventually, across the Arctic and into the boreal forest, on a rescue mission of her own. Her life changes in ways that no fairy tale could have prepared her for.

If you’ve read and loved East by Edith Pattou or Jessica Day George’s Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow then absolutely, you’ll want to read this one. But I have to say, it’s different. It’s not just a straight up expansion or development of the East of the Sun, West of the Moon tale. Sarah’s novel feels entirely modern. The scientific aspect of the story, with the detailed evocation of life on a research station and Cassie’s interest in becoming a scientist who studies the polar bear population feels especially timely. I liked how this emphasis really made the magical element, when it arose, feel all the more fantastical. You could appreciate Cassie’s initial disbelief and then her ultimate wonder at the situation she found herself in, because she is very much situated in the “real world” at the outset. I imagine that Sarah did a lot of research about the experience of being a scientist in an arctic environment. The descriptions of the landscape, its brutal power and beauty, really shine in the narrative. The landscape is a character in the book, for sure. You can see why Cassie is in love with the Arctic. Another strength of the book is the creative explanation for the Polar Bear King’s animal form. I don’t want to reveal too much, but Sarah has come up with something pretty interesting to explain the bear’s ability to transform from animal to human. Cassie is as gutsy as they come, and her adventure is absolutely non-stop. This is a page-turner that goes way beyond the standard fairy-tale revisited. Full marks for a novel full of creativity, perfect evocation of setting, and an unexpected but entirely believable romance.

Ice is published by Simon and Schuster, Margaret K. McElderry Books

(and thanks to Sarah for sending me her copy to read!)

TBR: Runemarks

I’ve been eyeing Joanne Harris’s Runemarks for quite a while now. I’ve read great reviews and very lukewarm reviews. Still, today I bought it because it is finally in paperback. I’ve read a couple of Harris’s adult titles, and for me, they are perfect books to read when you just feel like a satisfying story that doesn’t take much out of you and leaves you feeling that all’s well with the world.

Here’s a trailer:

Which cover do you prefer?

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Funny – totally different designs. I think the paperback (first one) has a lot more kid appeal. Apparently Harris is working on a sequel, Runelight.

If you’ve reviewed the book, drop off a link in the comments and I’ll add it into this post.

Odd and the Frost Giants

oddI think I need to create a new category for tagging reviews: ageless. (Or age-defying, or age-free?) Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants is the sort of story that anyone with even the tiniest smidge of youthful spirit left inside them will treasure. It’s a story to remind you of the first fairy tales you read by yourself, or had read to you. Remember? You were probably sitting tucked up in a blanket, far away in your imagination in cursed lands, with heroes on quests and magical creatures as your companions. That’s exactly what you’ll find in Gaiman’s most recent short tale inspired by Norse mythology.

Things are not well with Odd. His father has been lost in a Viking expedition. He’s been nearly crippled by an accident that left his leg shattered. Then, to make it all even harder to bear, there’s the endless winter that seems to have settled over his village. Everyone is grouchy and fearful about what will happen if spring never comes. So Odd takes off. He runs away, not with any real purpose. He finds a purpose, however, when three animals find him: a bear, a fox and an eagle. Odd learns these are no ordinary creatures, but in fact, they are much more than they seem. The three are Norse gods, Thor, Loki and Odin, who’ve been transformed into animals by an angry Frost Giant. The giant has captured the gods’ city, Asgard, and for as long as he is there, winter will not leave the land. Odd joins them and they journey to Asgard, where Odd proves that no matter how unassuming he might seem, or how insignificant, he is capable of great things.

This was such a sweet little tale. You’ll like Odd a great deal, for his pluck and his sheer determination. In a short book, we get a strong sense of his character. The Norse gods in animal form are pretty funny. They are a bumbling, blaming, frustrated trio and it’s hard not to laugh at their predicament. I imagine this will make a fabulous read aloud, partly because it’s so short. It could be enjoyed in just a few hours. For a child with any interest in mythology (aka most kids), it’s perfect. I’m thinking this is the stocking stuffer for Christmas this year. It has the feel of a tale that’s been around for a while, which is always the sort of book that grandparents, in particular, like to give. Also, it must be said that the book itself is lovely in its design. It’s small, with a wintry dark blue and gold colour theme going on, that really reinforces the idea of it as a classic-in-the-making. Brett Helquist’s illustrations are spot on, I only wish there had been even more of them, and maybe even one or two in colour plates. My favourite: the one where the three god / animals are grumping about their fate, trying to blame each other. The expressions say everything.

Here’s the trailer:

Gaiman wrote the book for World Book Day in the UK, an amazing-sounding annual event where kids get tokens for books for just £1. I wish Canada would jump onto that idea.

Odd and the Frost Giants is published by Harper.

Silksinger

silksingerEnchanting, spirited, wildly imaginative, thematically-rich – all of these words combined might begin to express the wonder that is Laini Taylor’s second Dreamdark book, Silksinger. If you haven’t read the first title, Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer, I’m jealous (read my review of Blackbringer here). Only a little bit jealous though, because Laini’s books fall into that rare category of story that you will want to read again and again as life goes on, so I know I will find as much delight in rereading as I did the first time around. I read Silksinger in the space of a day and a half, and I think that is exactly the way to enjoy it best, if you can spare the time to spend hours and hours reading. The reason? Laini’s faeire world feels as real as our own. You will see it, smell it, hear it. You will be there in it and you won’t want to step out of it and break the magic to do things like laundry and dog-walking and dinner-making. I was eager to read Silksinger because I loved Blackbringer so much but I wondered how Laini would manage to write something as wonderful. I don’t know how she managed it, but she did, that’s for sure.

After a brutal devil attack, Whisper Silksinger is the last faeire left in her clan, and now she carries with her the very thing the bloodthirsty devils were seeking. Held in a battered tea kettle is what looks like an ember. This is no ember, though, it is the Azazel, one of the world’s creators, asleep in ember form. Alone and hunted, Whisper must find a way to get the Azazel to the city of Nazneen, where she can place the ember inside the Azazel’s temple. Then the Djinn with awaken from his 4000 year sleep and his power will be restored, giving him the ability to fight the growing evil that threatens to destroy the Tapestry of Creation. Someone else seeks the Azazel. Hirik Mothmage hopes to find the Djinn so that he can become the Azazel’s champion and restore honour to his clan. Hirik and Whisper meet and begin traveling together, neither one trusting or knowing much of the other’s purpose. Not far behind them is Magpie Windwitch, the Magruwen’s champion, who speeds after Hirik and Whisper, hoping to keep them safe from the evil forces at their heels. Magpie can only protect the guardians from the villains she knows, however, and there is a greater evil working against the faeries that is almost ready to strike.

Once again, Laini offers readers a cast of characters so carefully crafted you’ll be hard-pressed to choose a favourite. Happily, old friends are back: Magpie and her band of crows and Talon, Batch Hangnail the imp, Bellatrix and Poppy all feature in Silksinger, as witty and feisty and warm as ever. I don’t really know where to begin with the new characters, every one of them is memorable, whether good or bad or in between. Whisper is a vulnerable thing, with hidden strength. I loved the idea of the Silksingers’ powers, their ability to weave incredible patterns in silk using song. Whisper keeps this ability hidden, but eventually, she demonstrates her gift in one of the most memorable sequences in the novel. Slomby, the snail-like slave creature, is a lovely character, fearful and sweet, worried and disappointed in his own powerlessness. Let’s just say that after reading Silksinger I’m hoping that Laini Taylor finds a way to bring everyone back in the final book of the trilogy. (Okay, maybe not some of the baddies, but all of the good guys). Continue reading

Dreaming Anastasia Review & Giveaway

dreaming*Note: Winners of Dreaming Anastasia have been selected and contacted. Thanks for your comments!*

Over the past year I’ve started reading many more YA titles, and the more I read, the more I recognize that creativity in YA land is hard to find, particularly when it comes to novels with female main characters. There are so many stories about essentially the same kind of girl, facing the same sort of problem, with the same types of friends, family issues etc. etc. etc. Yawn. This summer especially I was getting more and more irked by the cookie-cutter nature of some of the teen titles I read. Enter Joy Preble.

Joy is a Class of 2k9 author whose debut YA novel, Dreaming Anastasia, will satisfy any reader’s craving for a story will serious creativity. As I got caught up in the world of Joy’s story, I kept stopping and thinking, “Wow, this is one of the more inventive plots I’ve read in a while.” So, here goes. I’ll try to capture it all in a short teaser.

Anastasia Romanov, the daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, survived the attack on her family, but she is trapped. Something saved her and for years she has been a prisoner. Her only escape comes through writing to her dead family and dreaming of the past. In present day Chicago, Anne Michaelson’s life is turning upside down. She’s been having terrifying dreams where she witnesses horrific events and sometimes feels as if she is someone else. Anne doesn’t share her nightmares with anyone until she meets Ethan, a mysterious stranger who offers Anne an outrageous and frightening explanation for what she’s been experiencing. Anne discovers she has powers that seem impossible.  She finds that she is linked to a place and a legendary family she never knew, and that it is her destiny to free the Russian princess.

There is real genre-bending (or genre-combining) going on in Dreaming Anastasia. It’s part historical fiction, with enough detail about the Romanovs to inspire readers’ curiosity and make fans of historical fiction feel at home. It’s also semi-fantastical, since Anne and Ethan and others have strong magical powers that they use for good and bad throughout the story. Preble works in the traditional Russian folk tale of Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch famous for eating up children with her iron teeth and for her strange hut that scrabbles around the forest on hen’s legs. Baba Yaga turns out to be one of the most unusual and captivating characters in the book, a witch with complex and unpredictable motivations. Finally, a lot of the story is entirely realistic, focusing on Anne’s day-to-day school and family life, standing in contrast to the fairy tale/fantasy/history elements interwoven throughout. I liked this combination very much because all of the different pieces really kept the pace of the narrative moving along rapidly. While I didn’t feel that any piece was significantly underdeveloped, as a historical fiction fan, I would have been happy to have more on Anastasia and her family’s past, but that’s really more of a personal preference than a flaw in the book. Continue reading

Lips Touch

lipstouchFor some reason, when I read Laini Taylor’s amazing fantasy Blackbringer last year, I kept thinking, “I’ll bet she’d be good at writing something romantic.” I’m not talking Harlequin romance here people, I just mean a seriously romantic story. What can I say? I was right, and I’ve got Lips Touch to prove it.

I’m not generally a reader of short stories, so when I saw that Lips Touch: Three Times was a collection of short stories, my initial response was, “Too bad,” plus shoulder shrug. Well good news folks! The three tales in Laini’s book are each long, long enough to be broken down into chapters, in fact. That is to say, they are pretty substantial short stories, which is all good, because man can Laini Taylor write. Each of the stories is about a kiss. In the first, a girl who has always been an outsider finally gets noticed by the smoldering new guy at school. She fantasizes about kissing him, but she has no idea what the consequence of that kiss will be. In the second story, Ana has lived her whole life burdened by a curse. If she speaks, all who hear her will die. She has kept silent for years but now she is in love and she longs to break her silence to tell her suitor her true feelings. The final story introduces us to a girl who discovers the real reason why her mother never lets them stay in one place for long. She comes from a strange and violent other world, where a brutal and beautiful Queen rules over dreadful soulless creatures. The Queen and the girl are fated to meet. Shivery yet?

Laini Taylor has a wonderfully rich descriptive style, which helps you to imagine the characters, the settings and the worlds she creates to perfection. Here is a passage from the first story that reveals the gorgeousness of the prose:

” Kizzy wanted to be a woman who would dive off the prow of a sailboat into the sea, who would fall back in a tangle of sheets, laughing, and who could dance a tango, lazily stroke a leopard with her bare foot, freeze an enemy’s blood with her eyes, make promises she couldn’t possibly keep, and then shift the world to keep them. She wanted to write memoirs and autograph them at a tiny bookshop in Rome, with a line of admirers snaking down a pink-lit alley. She wanted to make love on a balcony, ruin someone, trade in esoteric knowledge, watch strangers as coolly as a cat. She wanted to be inscrutable, have a drink named after her, a love song written for her, and a handsome adventurer’s small airplane, champagne-christened Kizzy, which would vanish one day in a windstorm in Arabia so that she would have to mount a rescue operation involving camels, and wear and indigo veil against a stinging sand, just like the nomads. Kizzy wanted.”

Um… wow. There are authors who don’t succeed in giving readers as much sense of a character in the space of an entire novel, let alone in a single paragraph. That’s just one example. Another treat? I never saw the endings coming. That could be because Laini is loaded with creativity (definitely), and it could also be because you are always fully immersed in the moment of the story (again, definitely). You can’t put down this book without appreciating that Laini Taylor pays serious attention to crafting her work. It’s impressive and wholly satisfying for the reader. Here’s a writer who cares about details.

To make this even better, I think Lips Touch is going to be one gorgeous book. Aside from that cover, which is creepy/sexy/fantastic, each one of the stories is preceded by pages of illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo, Laini’s husband, another superbly talented individual. At her blog, Laini has already cheered about how beautiful the book will be. I can’t wait to see the final printed version.

Lips Touch is coming in October 2009. You will have to buy it. Absolute proof that Twilight is so not the last word on forbidden love.

Lips Touch: Three Times is published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. Note that material quoted is taken from the ARC and may differ from the bound book.