31 Aug 2012

THE AGE OF MIRACLES - KAREN THOMPSON WALKER

SUMMARY
'It is never what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different - unimagined, unprepared for, unknown...' What if our 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day becomes night and night becomes day? What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on an eleven-year-old girl, grappling with emotional changes in her own life..? One morning, Julia and her parents wake up in their suburban home in California to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is noticeably slowing. The enormity of this is almost beyond comprehension. And yet, even if the world is, in fact, coming to an end, as some assert, day-to-day life must go on. Julia, facing the loneliness and despair of an awkward adolescence, witnesses the impact of this phenomenon on the world, on the community, on her family and on herself.

REVIEW
In The Age of Miracles the world is beginning to change. The rotation of the Earth how slowed and is aptly being known at 'The Slowing'. Days and nights are growing longer and so is the gap between social groups - the Government rules that people should keep to the 24 hour 'clock time' to keep the economy stable and society running as normal as possible. But there are those who don't want to live like this, they are those who keep the days for waking and nights for sleeping. This story focuses on Julia, an 11 year old girl whose family tries to stay as normal as possible during the slowing. It is also her coming-of-age story, she struggles with the pressure of school and friends groups, and also noticing boys for the first time.

It's hard to describe The Age of Miracles without mentioning 2012 and our fears that the Earth is supposed to end this year, but in so many ways this is not what it is about. It is not post-apocolyptic. Yes, the physical world is changing faster than man can adapt, but life hasn't changed. What Walker does is create a novel that personifies our fears but makes it as human as possible. There is still love, heatbreak, childish bullying, but there is something so much more. It is just the world that is changing, not the people. Society still functions in the way it always has; we are selfish, over-bearing, and quick to judge those who don't want to follow along in our lifestyles.

THE SNOW CHILD - EOWYN IVEY

SUMMARY
Alaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding: is she what she seems, and can they find room in their hearts for her?

REVIEW
I was so excited when I unpacked about a billion copies of this book, it looked so good package-wise. I loved the premise too - that it was a remaking of a Fairy Tale - and I also loved the setting. I read a book called Blood and Ice a few years ago and since I've really enjoyed books set in Tundra-like places. This one is set in the 1920's in Alaska. Mabel and Jack, a middle-aged couple at the heart of the novel are good people, but I feel that nothing really happened or nothing was said that made me really connect with them.

There are things I liked about it; the atmosphere of the setting was fantastic, and I could almost feel the cold. The way Ivey describes the Alaskan wilderness perfectly captures its beautiful cruelty. Also, it made me think about how civilizations begin, how these little villages prevailed and created its community. It subtly askes us questions about the bounds of social regulation: should Mabel and Jack have forced the child to go to school, to make her stay with them? Or should they have let her go, be wild and 'free'. What is it about our lives that make us feel trapped, and if we are just creatures like wolves and foxes, why do we feel we must fit our lives into expectations and pathways? Both Mabel and Faina show that we will always be trapped by our emotions, whether we are cooped up physically or not.

23 Aug 2012

DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT - LAINI TAYLOR

THIS IS THE SECOND BOOK IN THE SERIES SO MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK.

SUMMARY
Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living - one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers' arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon's secret temple and dreamed of a world that was a like a jewel-box without a jewel - a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.

This was not that world.

REVIEW
Days of Blood and Starlight is the second in a trilogy, and the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone. If you haven't read the first book I don't recommend continuing to read this review - I don't want to spoil anything for you.

I don't want to give too much of a summary of this novel, because even the blurb doesn't give anything away. Its twists and turns begin on the very first pages and I really don't want to ruin it for anyone. This one is not for the faint hearted. After finishing the first book it is like waking up in the real world and realising your easy, safe life was just a fairy tale. If I've learnt anything from this book its that things can always get worse, "usually worse".

If not for the easy way Taylor has of making you invest in her characters, this would be a confusing book. With so many characters changing bodies and description it takes another level of writing for you to still be able to identify the individual voices. Nothing is simple, and that is the point. 

12 Aug 2012

AMITY AND SORROW - PEGGY RILEY

SUMMARY
In the wake of a suspicious fire, Amaranth gathers her children and flees from the blazing Mormon compound where her children were born and raised. Now she is on the run with no one but her barely-teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow, neither of whom have ever seen the outside world, to help her. After four days of driving without sleep, Amaranth crashes the car, leaving the family stranded at a gas station, unsure of what to do next. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of a downtrodden farmer, a man who offers sanctuary when the women need it most. AMITY & SORROW is the story of these remarkable women, their lives before and leading up to the night they fled, and their heartbreaking, hopeful future. Over the course of a season Amaranth will test the limits of her faith, and her daughters will test the limits of her patience. While Amity blossoms in this new world, free from her father's forbidding rules and ecstatic worship, Sorrow will move heaven and earth trying to get back home...And, meanwhile, the outside world hasn't forgotten about the fire on the compound.

REVIEW
Amity and Sorrow centres around the story of Amaranth, who has escaped from a polyamorous cult with her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow. Amaranth is wife number 1 and 50. The beginning and the end. Although the narrative is third person, it is given primarily from her view. She represents one and all, before and after and most importantly, during. There is so much imagery of interconnection, spinning and circular, and she embodies all of this. 

This book doesn't necessarily have drive. It is not an action narrative and the setting only really moves through flashbacks.  Amaranth's life is like this. She is stuck in one spot, frightened and bound both by her faith and what her faith has become. It focuses more heavily on the psychological effects of both giving yourself freely over to a faith or cult (and I don't specifically mean a religious one) and being born into one, and what that does to a child's social and psychological awareness. Faith begins to highlight its growing gap from logic, how keeping the children of the compound ignorant - even to reading and writing - is said to keep them safe, but instead it denies them anyway in which to arm themselves, as so sadly mirrors slavery.

4 Aug 2012

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE - LAINI TAYLOR

SUMMARY
Errand requiring immediate attention. Come. The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. 'He never says please', she sighed, but she gathered up her things. When Brimstone called, she always came. In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

REVIEW
Every once in a while a book comes along that is quiet brilliance. This is such a book. In my eyes Laini Taylor is a genius; a master of language, of raw emotion. She knows how to drop innocuous phrases into the text, only to have to meaning of them explode in your face later on.

The story centres around Karou, part time art student who is always at the beck and call of Brimstone, one of a few Chimaera (some would call them hybrids or monsters) who have fostered Karou since she can remember. She grows up knowing that the world of her family, who are made of snakes or birds or any number of exotic hybrids, is set apart from the human world that she spends most of her time in.

Karou is a brilliant character. She's a teenager in essence: quick to anger, unsure of who she is, sometimes over confident - but she is more than this. She doesn't buy in to thinking that a man will make her whole like Bella from Twilight. Even when it comes the time when she has to choose between the man or her family, her loyalty to her family always wins out. She's tough as hell but compassionate when it matters. Needless to say she is one of my favourite female protagonists of all time.

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