Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Black City by Elizabeth Richards (and an SPN tangent)


Publisher: Penguin
My Copy: e-book purchased for iBooks


Goodreads Synopsis


A dark and tender post-apocalyptic love story set in the aftermath of a bloody war.


In a city where humans and Darklings are now separated by a high wall and tensions between the two races still simmer after a terrible war, sixteen-year-olds Ash Fisher, a half-blood Darkling, and Natalie Buchanan, a human and the daughter of the Emissary, meet and do the unthinkable—they fall in love. Bonded by a mysterious connection that causes Ash’s long-dormant heart to beat, Ash and Natalie first deny and then struggle to fight their forbidden feelings for each other, knowing if they’re caught, they’ll be executed—but their feelings are too strong.


When Ash and Natalie then find themselves at the center of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to pull the humans and Darklings back into war, they must make hard choices that could result in both their deaths.


RATING: 2.5 STARS

To say I had high hopes for this book is an understatement.
BLACK CITY by Elizabeth Richards has been on my TBR pile forever. It just resonated with what I’m writing right now- I’m working on a full-length novel with a creepy city too- and I wanted to see how she pulls it off (because I’m having enough trouble making up a city). I wanted to see if the world building could actually be done right, or if the love-triangle could actually be non-cliché and entertaining.
Sadly, Black City just doesn’t work for me.

WRITING
I’ve read rave reviews for Black City, some praising Richards’ writing. The thing about a book like Black City, which focuses on romance as well as rebellion, beauty as well as callous cruelty, is that it needs to be written…well, a little less like R. L. Stine. I love R.L. Stine and his writing suits the plots he creates, but in Black City the writing was just too clean and simple and non-lyrical. I’m not the kind of reader that gets swept off simply by a great plot. To me, writing matters. If it’s choppy that will suit your book, go for it. If it’s something like Daughter of Smoke and Bone, go lyrical. This was what I was expecting with Black City, the kind of tugging at hearts writing. I did not get it.

CHARACTERS
While Ash was interesting enough, not even that exceptionally, I just fell asleep when Natalie was talking. Maybe I’m just getting tired of emo.
This book switches POV’s every chapter, and while I find that absolutely fine- look at This is Shyness or Incarceron, which does this perfectly- again, in Black City I wasn’t…invested.
Yes, that’s the word. Invested. I couldn’t get invested in the plot or the characters, no one ripped my heart out and chewed it up and spat it out in little pieces (boo) and I. Just. Didn’t. Care.
Then there’s instalove. I swear we should petition for some rule to ban this, like, forever. I DID NOT expect instalove in Black City, that was possibly the problem. I WANTED a developing love story. I WANTED two characters from two entirely different backgrounds to meet and understand each other and slowly move into a dance-phase (the do-I-love-him/her, how-do-I-let-him/her-know plot that I adore)

PLOT
This was okay, and I won’t give much away. At least it held me interested. Although towards the end, the villain was looking more and more like a ghost of President Snow. And Ash was the “Boy Who Rose From the Ashes”, which is uncomfortably similar to “The Girl on Fire”. The near-end scene is just too much like Katniss being threatened by Snow.

THE GOOD STUFF (bullet-pointed, because I’m out of time)
-        Pretty decent world-building
-        CRUCIFIXION. There’s a good, scary image.
-        “And so begins my heart.” I could sing that line.
-        The unbelievable, gorgeous cover.
-        The different types of Darklings.

OVERALL
Black City didn’t work for me. I was put off by Instalove, and by a mediocre plot, plus unspectacular writing in a book where I thought spectacular could do WONDERS. Part of this disappointment was probably due to my own high expectations, so give Black City a try.
You might love it.

UNRELATED TANGENT


Guys, voting for People’s Choice Awards is now open. I will be voting like CRAZY for Supernatural in every category it has been nominated. That is Favorite Sci-fi/Fantasy show, two nominations for Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles in Favorite Dramatic Actor (I’ll throw an even amount of votes for both; I can’t choose between the Winchesters!) and Favorite Fan Following, which I hope we win regardless of all the ill sentiments from last year, because we’re a very tight, very wonderfully crazy fandom. (We’re still a little bummed that People’s Choice didn’t put SPN on the Favorite TV Drama list- come on, it WON last year. There should at least be a nomination this year!)
I’m also voting for Castle’s Stana Katic (Kate Beckett) in Favorite Dramatic Actress, and Revolution in Favorite New Show.
Plus, Potter fans, do vote for Potterheads in the Favorite Film Franchise Fan Following J
Go to www.peopleschoice.com to vote, and if you’re a die-hard SPNFamily member, what the hell are you still reading this for? Go Vote!    

Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor


Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war. This is not that world.

Art student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is--and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?


Oh, Laini Taylor, you wonderful woman. I am so in love with your epic awesomeness that I’m sort of jealous of your two-year-old daughter (who I will never match in amazing cuteness).

When the Daughter of Smoke and Bone came out and took several months more to come out in India, I defied all cosmic odds by finding an online bookstore that would ship it to me for free. And I DEVOURED it. I composed entire poems in my head while reading the book. I wrote, “You will be rewarded with cosmic goodwill and hard cash” on the front of my notebooks. I even bought a glossy, hardback copy of Lips Touch: Three Times because I knew Laini and Jim wouldn’t disappoint.

This time, though, I just couldn’t find a bookstore with no shipping costs, and I had to get the e-book. To my surprise, the e-book version was gorgeous too! Sigh, bliss…

On with the review, already!

Days of Blood and Starlight, is as incredible as its predecessor. In South India we get this little snack called a “bonda” It has crispy deep-fried dough on the outside, and as you crunch your way through the high-calorie goodness, you suddenly reach a spicy filling. And as you continue chewing, you get to the bittersweet coconut chutney. Then to an explosion of spices again.

Days of Blood and Starlight is that. It starts off crisp and well-paced with hints of humor and wonder. It gets to the spicy part with the Revenants and the Dominion and the bastard army (Legion, I guess). It has the bittersweet moments with Karou and Akiva (I am all praise for this relationship- but I promise, more on that later) and even some of the minor characters. And then it has that incredible ending.

(For the record, I love bondas. Sometimes I think I subsist on the awesomeness of the bondas we get in the college canteen)

KAROU, our hither-and-thither girl:

Oh, Karou. Karou, Karou. You’re no longer a blue-haired fairy skipping through the streets of Prague. No, you’ve become sharper, leaner, harder. You’ve had to make difficult choices and ally with difficult people. You’ve had to battle your own conflicted emotions, and deal with the loss of the only family you know, and deal with the bloody world of Eretz and the chimaera rebellion that is so new, yet so old to you.

My heart broke for Karou at several points in the story. I swear, when she went from loneliness to having wonderful people around her again, I cried for joy. Karou deserves happiness. She isn’t a whiny YA heroine. She has her self-doubts, yes, who doesn’t? But with Karou, that character of hers shines. She isn’t weak, no. Lonely and conflicted, yet headstrong and wonderful, she is my favorite YA heroine.

And she remains to be so with this second book.

AKIVA, Beast’s Bane and Prince of Bastards:

Well, he isn’t really. A bastard, I mean. Literally, yes, but…never mind.
I loved Akiva again in Days. His pain, the hard reality of his life and his purpose in his bloody world- everything we knew about him from Daughter­- is magnified tenfold in Days. The stalwart love he has for Karou shines brighter than the inferno of his wings. And Akiva is not simply a love-interest fluttering around doing nothing. He has his own story-arc, his own
“choices” (an important word in the book), and two secondary characters attached to him who make the story incredibly richer. He is well fleshed-out and written with beauty, solemnity and the right amount of brokenness. He is a consummate and powerful soldier, but one with a heart, and also a wonderful brother and man. (Notice I say ‘man’.)

The secondary characters in this book are also incredibly well-written. Take Zuzana and Mik, who I love to pieces. They are great comic relief and wonderfully placed as well. Take Hazael and Liraz, who we didn’t know much about in Daughter but come to brilliant life in Days. Take Thiago with his games and Joram with his brutality. Take even Ziri (he’s new). Everyone is important and no one is cardboard.

The plot itself is amazing. It came together so incredibly in the end, all the little threads and the big snowballs, all the big-bads and magic and blood and pain and love and beauty, to build to an incredible climax. When Madrigal and Akiva dreamed of a new world, I wondered how they’d ever get anywhere near that dream. With the end of Days, they seem one step closer but oh, still so far.

Days does not bring the lovers close in one epic apology but explores both of them- their motivations, their mindsets, their surroundings- and brings them together in one genius move that leaves them in each other’s presence but still unsure. I applaud Laini Taylor for this. Karou and Akiva are both so clear. Why they do what they do, why they then regret or accept it, how difficult it is to make tough choices when you’re on opposite sides of an endless war- everything is laid out for the reader to understand and interpret.

The setting itself is vastly different from Daughter. While Daughter had a fairy-tale charm to it, Days is so much more. It is bloodier, nastier, with monstrous armies that carve smiles on their enemies and villains with a penchant for hands. It is about the choices we make and the true meaning of being a hero or a soldier. It is about a world torn by war, which can be remade only by love and coexistence and infinite tolerance. It is about friendship and loyalty and trust and the ability to protect rather than avenge or destroy.
(It also occasionally has passages as fluffy and delicate as lace, and language that sparked off the page in typical Laini style)

I loved the Days of Blood and Starlight. I loved it for matching my high expectations, I loved it for not being just a filler-book, and I loved it for its epic ending. I loved it for Zuzana and Karou and Akiva and Mik and Ziri.

5 stars, and an excited-Zuzana-hop.        

ALSO

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Trifecta Writing Challenge: Cut Out Ones Will Suffice

For Trifecta Writing Challenge: Prompt is Year (as in usually represented by a number)
NOTE:
How this one came to be, I have absolutely no idea. At first it was about sisters. Then it was about basements. Then I watched too much Supernatural. 
Suffice to say, this one is the most scary 333 words I've ever written.
Hear me?
Morbid! Very! Apologies in advance for any nightmares.


source: http://vvola.deviantart.com

I'm calling this....CUT OUT ONES WILL SUFFICE. Here we go!



“Rose.”
Three times, like a charm. Whispered so soft that I can pretend not to have heard it; pretend that the sound of my name has gotten lost in the space between us; has become entangled in the clouds of hair that spans a golden bridge between us.
“It’s time, Rose. It’s almost here, the new year.”
“I wish it weren’t.”
“I’m sorry, Rose.”
I open my eyes. Marie’s eyes are open and violently blue. Ships are wrecked in the maelstrom of those irises. Cornflower fields bloom in mine.
I hurt inside, a raw and terrible hurt. It colors my voice pale. “This year hurts more than any, Marie.”
“I know, sister.”
“Why should we do it every year? Dying is not so bad. Birds do it. Plants do it. Butterflies, they don’t even live a week…”
Marie smoothes the curve of my cheek with her soft, young hand. “But you and me, Rose. You and me, here forever. You wanted it too.”
“A hundred years ago, maybe I did…”
“We’ll stop, Rosie. We’ll stop, just not this year.”
Our feet are silent against the stairs, silent all the way to the table. My shoulders shake. She gives me the scissors and picks up her knife, but then the scissors fall from my fingers.
Crash, the sound of my heart breaking.
“Will you do it alone?”
Marie goes to the basement. I sit at the table and think of him. His eyes are blue too, blue as the deep ocean. He likes to dance. He smokes too much. Paints. Falls for girls who will be the death of him.
Now he also probably hates basements.
Marie is back. One bloody Ziploc in her arms. Marked Year 2013.
“Too quick?”
“He was a quiet one.”
I cut a lock of her hair, one lock of mine. We put it in the Ziploc. The spell is too short for something so significant.
Some sell immortality in return for broken hearts.
Cut out ones will suffice.
      

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Images used in this blog are either digital art created by the author or free photographs. Reviews and views expressed on this site are strictly personal. Text by Varsha Dinesh is copyrighted under Creative Commons.