If the universe was fair, of course, these books would all have sucked in order to punish me for my lazy, procrastinatory ways. But instead, several of them are amazeballs of a really high order, and I thought I'd talk to you about them.
First up was Lips Touch: Three Times written by Laini Taylor and illustrated by Jim di Bartolo.
Laini Taylor's writing is intoxicatingly good. It's so good that it's not possible to describe it, really, without sounding gushy and overblown - you want to throw superlatives in there like 'romantic', 'lush' and 'beautiful' but you're still not getting at just what it is that makes this story collection so special. The atmosphere it creates is utterly magical, and every time I had to put it down I felt as if I was still walking around with half my soul existing in a parallel dimension of wicked goblins, tragic curses and howling wolves. I had the sense that every line of Ms. Taylor's prose I absorbed was teaching me something, whether it's how to contrast whimsy and terror, or how to use contemporary language to understate horror, or how to let lyricism off the leash without losing control of it. My favourite of these stories is the final one, the longest, and I hope and pray that the writer may one day return to that world; although in fact any of the settings, any of the characters utilised here, could easily support a full length book. If you only buy one new book before the end of this year, make Lips Touch the one.
Second came The Name on Your Wrist by Helen Hiorns (this will be out on the 2nd of January 2014).
I was sent a link to an eGalley widget to this book, saw that it was about soulmates, and downloaded it assuming that it would be a nice, sweet story about forever teenage love. I probably *wouldn't* have downloaded it if I'd realised that it's nothing of the sort - that, in fact, it's one of the bleakest and most uncompromising Dystopian novels I've ever come across - but that would have been my loss. I'm glad I read it, even if it did leave me wanting to curl up under a blankie with a cup of hot chocolate and have a good cry.
This is a really remarkable debut from a very talented writer. I've never come across a PoV character quite like this, or a narrative voice that struck me in quite the same way. The writer walks a razor-edge between prose that truly does read like the self-obsessed, angsty journal rantings of an emotionally broken teenage girl, and prose which has the emotional clarity and power required to carry a full-length book. The main character, Corin, is one of the least immediately 'likeable' and therefore perhaps *most* realistic female characters I've read in ages, calling up definite echoes of Cat Clarke's unforgettable Grace in her debut Entangled. She's strong and yet feeble, angry yet vulnerable, and she's got everything and everyone all figured out right from the start, while simultaneously managing to be wrong about all the most important things.
I love the ideas in this book. It creates a Dystopian future which rather than seeming outlandish and shocking feels shockingly plausible to the point of being bland. A future in which people in power really do seek to keep everyone safe - by making them comfortable, appealing to their laziness and desire to fit in, and making all their choices for them. Each plot and subplot is there to challenge our idealisation of romantic love as the only love that really matters, presenting a world where everyone has a soulmate, where everyone knows the name of the true love whom they will eventually find - and it's a complete nightmare.
This book's only real weakness is its ending. There's a brilliant twist, but sadly the way it's unveiled and the main character's reaction to it rather works against the messages that we've absorbed from the story up to that point. It needed further unpacking and resolving to make it as strong as it should have been. But regardless, I really admired the author of this book for making so many daring choices, and for managing to surprise me. Recommended.
Finally, Chime, by Franny Billingsley.
One of the great strengths of the book, aside from that marvellous Briony voice, is the setting of the Swampsea, which felt completely real to me as someone who lives on the edge of a boggy saltmarsh. I also loved the richly textured, tattered backdrop of myths and fairystories and legends - many of which, of course, turn out to be frighteningly real. At times the town setting felt a bit threadbare in comparison, with scenes that could/should have been colourful and lively, such as Briony's fight in the town square ending up feeling a bit 'talking heads'. I wonder, actually, if that was a conscious choice on the part of the author, making the magical swamp feel much more real by comparison.
However, once again I felt that the ending of the novel let it down. Without giving away spoilers, a certain character abruptly acts in a way that completely changes our understanding of who he is - and then proceeds to blame it on Briony (who is far too ready to take the blame, as we've seen throughout the entire book). This scenario feels entirely familiar to someone who's read about rape culture, as does the fact that this male character's pain over what he's done is treated as far more important than the heroine's pain at he's done to her. He's instantly forgiven so that the story can have a conventionally happy ending. All this left me feeling betrayed and bruised on the heroine's behalf. I think I can understand why that scene was there and what the writer intended - to shed a light of human frailty on a character who might otherwise have seemed too good to be true - but the method used and the pat wrap-up just didn't work for me, and nearly ruined an otherwise brilliant story.
I think I'd still recommend this, but with a trigger warning that there are problematic elements.
So! What have you guys been reading lately? Give me your recommendations in the comments, my muffins.