Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor, Illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo

Lips Touch: Three TimesDescription: Laini Taylor brings us three unique tales of supernatural love, each pivoting on a kiss that is no mere kiss, but an action with profound consequences for the kissers' souls.

Stats: Young Adult Fantasy, 266 pages, First Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2009.

My Rating: 4 Stars

"They simply do as their own grandparents taught them, leave the baskets and keep their eyes down, no matter how great the temptation to peer into the forest. They don't want to see what might peer back." 
- Hatchling, page 161

In resent years some aspects of the fantasy genre have been downplayed, especially in the YA fiction section. There's a lot of focus put on creatures features where vampires and werewolves run amuck, but not a lot of focus is put on what made us scared of immortal creatures in the first place. There has always been a divide between the human world and the world of magic. This divide is there for a reason because not all demons know what mercy is, and not a single goblin cares, and some magic is frightening because death is frightening. That is what I ended up loving about Lips Touch: Three Times. It takes us to back to a place where people believe there is something to be scared of. And when magic and humanity inevitably mix it isn't pretty.

At first glance I had assumed that Lips Touch was three short stories by three different authors. My reasoning was that you just don't see many YA authors writing collections without it being a group project. However, flying solo, Laini Taylor has crafted these beautifully written short stories. If you're familiar with Taylor you will know how highly praised her writing is. She has the sort of imagination that makes me want to crawl inside her mind and stay there. If you enjoyed her book Daughter of Smoke and Bone then you will like this book without a doubt.  

Something else worth noting is that Lips Touch has these beautiful illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo at the beginning of each story. The illustrations take up a couple of full pages and give a mysterious preview of what the next story will entail, as well as offering up vivid imagery that expands upon Taylor's words. It was a fantastic edition and fit right in with the tone of the book.

Now, to talk about the short stories themselves. Lips Touch: Three Times begins with the shortest of the stories, called Goblin Fruit. It should be said that this story can be also be purchased separately as an ebook.

"The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls. Like Kizzy." - Goblin Fruit, page 13 

Goblin Fruit is about a girl who is faced with the temptation of Goblins as they desire to seduce away her soul. I loved the circumstances of surrounding this story. The main character, Kizzy, is a modern day teenager that lives a pretty normal life. However, she has always been somewhat exiled from the rest of the world because of the way her family lives their lives seeped in old traditions. Because of this Kizzy becomes a girl full of want for the things she does not have and perfect goblin fruit.

Because of its length it only gives you a small glimpse of what to expect from other stories. Taylor is at her best when she gives herself more time to build a mythology and explore a history of her ideas. With Goblin fruit what ended up sticking with me the most was not the fantasy of the story, but the realness of Kizzy. I saw a lot of myself in Kizzy and that alone had a chilling effect on me.

The next story is called Spicy Little Curses Such As These and is probably my favourite of the bunch.

“This is the story of the curse and the kiss, the demon and the girl. It's a love story with dancing and death in it, and singing and souls and shadows reeled out on kite strings.” 
- Spicy Little Curses

Spicy Little Curses is about a British woman in India who must negotiate with a demon over the death of individual souls. As he cooks up horrible ways for people to die, she attempts to save the innocent in exchange for the guilty. The story that unfolds is possibly the most perfect thing ever. I wanted to see more of this world and by the time I was done all I wanted to do was read it again. It is fascinating how fleshed out the world presented here feels to me. Spicy Little Curses is one of the finest examples of excellent world building I've ever seen and it's a short story.

Needless to say after Spicy Little Curses my expectations had risen. So the pressure was on for the story that followed it up, which is called Hatchling. It is the longest story and takes up about the last 50% of the book.

“She was a girl and she was a queen and back in the mists she was a woman who had seized the moon from the sky and drunk its light so that she would never die. And she never had.” - Hatchling

Hatchling has a life of it's own. Because it is the longest story it takes a little while for everything to take root and once it does the story your reading has layer upon layer of mystery and mythology. It is the darkest of the three stories and is about more then just one kiss. It's for this reason that I probably found it the least satisfying. It left me with more questions then I would have liked and although the open ending is interesting from a narrative standpoint, I wanted a bit more clarity about the consequences of the events that took place in the story. There isn't much I feel I can say without spoiling one of the many narrative twists that happen in this tale. I will say however, that this one deals with a lot of very heavy topics, including rape. It is actually at the centre of the story, so be cautious if that is something you are wanting to avoid.

Even though I started reading Lips Touch: Three Times during a reading slump I ended up loving all of the stories in there own little way. From the characters to the world building, Taylor is truly a wonderful fantasy writer. I am left begging for more stories like this. If anyone has any non-romantic, mythology based fantasy similar to Taylor's that you would like to recommend then please tell me so at once!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew
Description: Lucentio falls in love with Bianca, the apparently ideal younger daughter of the wealthy Baptista Minola. But before they can marry, Bianca's formidable elder sister, Katherine, must be wed. Petruchio, interested only in the huge dowry, arranges to marry Katherine-against her will-and enters into a battle of the sexes. - from Simon & Schuster edition.

My Edition: No Fear Shakespeare, 264 pages, Published by SparkNotes in 2004

My Rating: 3 Stars 

Petruchio: A combless cock, so Kate will be my hen.
Katherine: No cock of mine. 
You crow too like a craven.

10 Things I Hate About You is probably one of my favourite movies, like ever. So when it came time to making my list of Shakespeare plays to read this year, The Taming of the Shrew was at the top of my list. Now, going into this I knew there would be radical differences between the romantic comedy of modern day and the romantic comedy of Shakespeare's day, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself really loving the first three acts of the play. It was great! I wish I could quote Katherine and Petruchio's entire first meeting word for word. Only a small snippet is seen above. The banter was fantastic and the set up for everything got me interested in the story Shakespeare had to tell. 

The Taming of the Shrew is a love story based on greed and lies. Everyone is scheming in order to get what they want. If I hadn't known this was one of Shakespeare's comedies I would have thought that this story would have ended badly, which it did in a sense (more on that later), but not in a "and then everyone dies" sort of way.

When good-natured Lucentio falls in love with Bianca at first sight he quickly hears that she is not allowed to marry until her older sister does and is being kept from her suitors till the whole mess is sorted. Problem number one: No one will take Katherine to be a wife. Good thing is, Bianca's other suitors Gremio and Hortensio have a plan for that! Their strong willed friend Petruchio is in town and looking for some cash. Katherine's father is rich and her dowry would more then satisfy what he's looking for. So Petruchio takes on the challenge to tame the shrew and marry her for her money. Isn't that just lovely? 

For Lucentio, now all he needs is to win over Bianca's affections. In order to do so he hatches up his own scheme. He will pretend to be a tutor called Cambio to woo Bianca while her father hides her away. Meanwhile his loyal servant, Tranio, will pretend to be him and work Bianca's father to seal the match with false promises and fake parentage. Loveliness all around! At the same time that other suitor from earlier, Hortensio, has a similar plan as he goes undercover as a music instructor to also attempt to woo Bianca.  

Things really start to get interesting when Petruchio and Katherine meet with fiery results. She not only rejects him, but spars with him as they sling words full of hate and thinly concealed innuendoes. It was wonderful to read and had me excited for what could possibly come next. 

Unfortunately, the positives sort of end there. I feel as if I was lulled into a false sense of security in Taming of the Shrew. The first three acts of the play had me convinced I would enjoy this one just like I did the last two plays, and then Act 4 hits, and everything fell apart as I was reminded of the inevitable conclusion. 

Times have changed. Katherine is by today's standards, feisty and headstrong, however in days past she was shrew and disobedient. I really, really hate the word obedient. It is possibly the most insulting word to refer to another human being as. Pets can be obedient or curly hair can be obedient, but calling another person such is just disgusting. With such a strong start to the play I had hoped that perhaps, maybe Shakespeare was going to play the part of the rebel and make this "battle of the sexes" an actual battle. But this battle there is a very clear winner and loser. 

So after their first meeting Petruchio reports back to Katherine's father that she has fallen in love with him, despite her saying everything to the contrary, and Katherine's father, being a dick, takes Pertruchio's claim at face value and just hands her over. So much for wanting her happiness! She's miserable and rightfully so because it only gets worse from there. The wedding goes through and Pertrucio's plan to tame her involves sleep deprivation, starvation, and complete isolation from her family in an environment of violence until she breaks. Katherine gives in to his will just to get him to shut up. Isn't love just grand? 

The ending was inevitable. As the men of the book laugh and bet on her willingness. Her two page speech on a woman's obedience to her lord, master, and husband was inevitable. It made me feel icky, so very icky. I am very happy that I live in modern day with my 10 Things I Hate About You and my fantastic feminism. Whew! 

There are a lot of other smaller nuisances in the play that brought down my rating. The characters in the Introduction were unnecessary/unresolved and the similarly named characters "Gremio" and "Grumio" were confusing.

Despite the ending I do think that this play is worth reading. It's easy to consume, easy to follow the story, and interesting to see the parallels with the movie. I also think it is great for opening up the discussion of the history of strong willed women, comparing our past with our present. It's an interesting conversation to have and this would be a very good starter!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Series Review: Mars by Fuyumi Soryo

MARS, Volume 14Series Description: A bad boy can change a good girl forever. Rei is the school delinquent. Kira is shy and studious. What they see in each other is a mystery to their friends. What they find in each other is a miracle to themselves. With a style that is artistic and chic, this tale of restless and confused high school love will appeal to young women everywhere.
Mars, Vol. 4- From Goodreads MARS Volume 15

Stats: Romance Manga, 15 Volumes + A Prequel, English Publication: 2002 to 2004 by Tokyopop.

My Overall Rating: 

When I first started MARS it was way back in 2010. I'll be honest, there's a really good reason for the huge time period it took for me to complete this series. The reason being that I completely stopped reading and told myself that I would never continue with MARS ever again. You see, my first time around I got to about Volume 8 when I checked out. My initial reasoning was simple, gradually as the story evolved and we got to know the characters better, the story went from a sweet (if not slightly strange) romance to what I can only call a tragedy. The levels of tension were forever rising and like that pressure gauge on the soon to explode pressure cooker I just couldn't stand to continue on the roller-coaster that was Kira and Rei's relationship. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading the first 8 Volumes of MARS, they were addicting, but with every twist and turn I just couldn't continue.

But MARS has staying power. With the strength of its plot it's not a manga easily forgotten. So, much to my surprise MARS managed to pull me back in and in a single night I picked up where I left off and finished the series. It brought me back in with its astounding overall story-telling, romance, and characters. I was worried I would regret it, but in the end, I'm glad I finished it. This turned out to be a truly remarkable series, even with my reluctance to go on reading.

To make things clear, Kira and Rei is a recipe for disaster. They are perfect for each other, but it's like the universe has decided to give them the toughest time possible.

Right after finishing Volume 9 I wrote in my Goodreads Review:
"This is the most emotastic manga I have ever read. It's like wow, Rei and Kira are messed up people individually and when you put them together all you want is their relationship to work out for the both of them... And then the next volume happens and things somehow manage to only get worse and more messed up!" ... "Can someone give me a hug?"

I feel like that sums up the series for me on an emotional level. But despite all the negativity, MARS really is a beautiful romance about finding courage and love in the last place you would expect. The story itself is pretty basic at its core. After good, introverted girl meets troubled bad boy, the two manage to find what they were missing in themselves in each other.

My thoughts after Volume 10:
"It's depressing as hell, but the moments that Rei and Kira share make the whole thing worth it in spades. I'm getting pulled along by their romance. It's like gravity."

All the elements that this story has come together perfectly, the characters are well rounded and feel like real living people. They have interests and dreams but are unfortunately always in a battle with themselves to overcome their own history.

The art is a perfect reflection of each character, from the overall design to the details. Something I found particularly impressive with the art was through Rei and his passion of professional motorcycle racing. The way that the scenes of him riding his bike are drawn, as well as the racing the track, are just so amazing that I felt like I got it. I understood what it looked like, the motions, and how he felt while he was riding. I think that takes a lot of skill to create motion and feeling in a vehicle.

What makes it all work is that Fuyumi Soryo's writing is top-notch. Even with all these different things going on, all those heartbreaking moments, her story never jumps the shark.

My thoughts after Volume 11:
"I don't know why I love this story so much. It's a weird roller-coaster of happy relief and crushing sympathy. Waiting for the next heartbreaking moment to happen, then smiling when it all comes to past."

I think the reason her writing is so fantastic is that every event that happens has a lasting effect on the characters. So often, in manga especially, events will come and go without any real consequences or call-backs. In MARS every little moment plays a part in Kira and Rei's fates.

I enjoyed every heart pounding second of my return to MARS. The way that this story takes you on such a personal and unforgettable journey is incredible. From Kira and Rei's first meeting to the very last page, I fell in love with MARS.

Highly recommended for anyone looking for a manga with a love story that takes itself seriously, while still making you smile.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Boy Meets Boy
Description: This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance. 

When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.

Stats: Young Adult, 185 pages, First Published by Alfred A. Knopf, September 2003.

My Rating: 4 Stars (A Reading Robyn Favourite)
"I've always known I was gay, but it wasn't confirmed until I was in kindergarten. It was my teacher who said so. It was right there on my kindergarten report card: PAUL IS DEFINITELY GAY AND HAS VERY GOOD SENSE OF SELF."
Boy Meets Boy starts off as a novel of what ifs. What if there was a place where acceptance was the norm? What if not-normal was the norm? What if what you're left with is just the extraordinary? That place exists in this novel. 

The setting of Boy Meets Boy is a central part of the novel and reminds me a lot of the worlds that we see in cartoons. This place is colourful, eccentric, and fascinating. We all wish we could live there, not only because it is a place where all things seem to belong, but because this is the place where everyday things are transformed into interesting things. It seems like an interesting concept in theory, but even I was surprised how well it all works. The setting is an ideal, but the circumstances in the story are not always so. 

In Boy Meets Boy, a boy (Paul) meets another boy (Noah) and they start to fall for each other. What makes this worth reading is that normally when in LGBTQ YA this meeting of hearts ends badly, not because of the relationship itself, but because of the society we live in. LGBTQ is normally about the realization of sexuality and the oppression of it, all of which are subjects handled in Boy Meets Boy, but here the book treats its characters like they really are just part of contemporary romance. There are love triangles, mistakes made, ex-boyfriends, a school dance, tested friendships, and dates

I think this is the first time I've read a LGBTQ book where the main character actually goes out on dates and has a dating history. And that in itself is what makes this so special! It's one thing to handle what it means to discover your sexuality, but it's an entirely different thing to be past that point, to have reached an understanding of it, and then go on to live your life as it demands to be lived. 

David Levithan is an amazing writer. That is just a fact. He knows how to take characters and make them people that you know are out there somewhere. What impressed me the most is that he could have easily taken the fantasy of this story too far, but he never does. He kept his writing planted in reality just enough to show the prejudice, to show the dark side, to show what gay teenager go through, without losing any of the humour and sunshine that makes this story fun.

My first experience with Levithan was in Will Grayson, Will Grayson with co-author John Green. I figured since I hadn't read anything else by him that Boy Meets Boy would be an appropriate place to start. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is one of my go to recommendations (you can see that review here). If you like that book you will most definitely like this one. The style is different, the tone is not. 

Boy Meets Boy ends up being a truly touching and upbeat novel about what it's really like when boy meets boy. It's just that simple.