September 26, 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, (Little Brown, 2011).
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
AGE: 15 and up

Though a YA novel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is such an aesthetic pleasure that it has a certain cross-over adult appeal. Though it didn't capture me emtionally to the same degree that Lips Touch Three Times, it is a lovely and formidable title worth of checking out.

Here's the Twisby Review:

On a personal note, I'd be envious if Taylor weren't so completely impressive.

September 20, 2012

The Keep

THE KEEP by Jennifer Egan (Anchor, 2007)
GENRE: Literary Realism / Ghost Story (of sorts)

The Keep has been on my to-read list for five years. I'm not entirely sure why it took me so long to read it, but it's left me with a great deal to think about. It's a deceptively simple book, with great and murky depths. And I don't mean "murky" in a pejorative sense. It's simply that there's so very much going on beneath the surface that it seems impossible to sink in deeply enough to touch bottom.

On the surface, it's the story of a man escaping New York to help his cousin renovate an eastern European castle. Danny is an experienced "second" - he's the man who stands beside powerful men and makes things run. Addicted to his cell phone and all other forms of wireless connectivity, he drags a portable satellite dish all the way to the castle, only to lose it to the stygian depths of a ancient pool. It's the first hint of one of Egan's central themes - how much technology is like magic, how very much it makes us like ghosts. About a quarter of the way into Danny's awkward and somewhat fraught reunion with his cousin,  the narrator suddenly introduces himself, exposing the book's second thread, this one concerning the narrator himself, a convict who is penning Danny's story for a prison writing class.

The marriage of these two threads, (Danny's story and the narrator's), should be awkward, but in Egan's hands it works. The narrator is a compelling figure, as compelling, though in a different way, as Danny is. One can't help but feel that the two are viscerally connected. In the climax we learn why and how. The knowledge is both satisfying and inevitable, and strangely touching, given the characters involved -  flawed men living flawed lives, warped and, in Danny's case, occasionally ridiculous. In fact, the book is a symphony of sorts, with various elements playing together in deep harmony - until the denouement.

In the first two sections, the convict narrates Danny's story, inserting asides and moving his own threads forwards as he does. In the final section, his writing teacher takes up the reins, a switch that might have worked were it not so disruptive, so packed with the backstory of a secondary, (though admittedly pivotal), character. I can see why Egan did it - she was able to elucidate certain issues by switching narrators, and it allowed her to tie up loose ends, but overall, it distracted from the final, perfect connection between Danny and the narrator, the thing at the novel's heart. It is The Keep's only real flaw, and one I can forgive, given the structural boldness of the rest. I just can't help but wish for less - less explanation, less backstory, less denouement. With such a well-pitched climax, a brief afterward or epilogue would have functioned to tie the bows. The story stands perfectly without the rest.

September 11, 2012

Knit Your Own Cat

KNIT YOUR OWN CAT by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2011)
GENRE: Craft - Knitting

This book is adorable. Even if you're just figuring out how to purl, it's adorable. Even if you've been making argyle socks since you were 12, it's adorable. It's just adorable, from concept to execution. Here's why. Knit Your Own Cat does something that many concept-knitting books don't do - it engages the reader emotionally. What does that mean, you might ask. Well, it means that even as your knitty juices get all a-flowing, inspired by the detailed, pristine patterns, the wee yarn cats charm with their cocked heads and wispy whiskers and delicately formed paws. Their little faces have a ton of personality as they look winsomely out at you from their understated photographic boxes, as if they were asking you to bring them home from the pound. The amount of feline body language these patterns capture is impressive, from the gently curled figure of a napping Blue Russian to the languidly raised paw of a Devon Rex. It's a little uncanny and very charming.

One thing to note however, is that these cats are not projects for beginners. The average needle size is a 2 and there is a great deal of shaping done on a very small scale, not to mention changing color-ways and piecing the little critters together. The experienced knitter will find this book to be clear as glass and full of fun challenges, but the beginner is likely to get frustrated. That said, Muir and Osborne include a lot of lovely information about each of the breeds, as well as their reasonings for using certain techniques to achieve the desired effects, so it's a friendly, fascinating, educational book, even for knitters who are still working their way up the skill-ladder. Unassuming and quiet, Knit Your Own Cat is a lovely, specific little book that takes full advantage of the natural compatibility between knitters and cats. I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

September 1, 2012

Lips Touch Three Times

LIPS TOUCH THREE TIMES by Laini Taylor; illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo (Arthur A. Levine, 2009).

Sometimes I read a book and I don't want to talk about it. It's just too... I'm not sure what words to use. It's an impulse I have to be quiet and hold it to my chest because talking would fail to communicate what it was about the book that resonated so deeply with me. It's an impulse to hand it to people without ever discussing it, because I don't want to know what it meant to them any more than I want them to know what it meant to me. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

Just recently, it happened with Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor, (which was short listed for the National Book Award), a collection of three novellas rooted deeply in fairy tales and mythology, and... yeah. I can't say much more, other than that it surprised me. So, though it is ostensibly a YA title, the stories are fierce and brutal and delicate too, and should not be overlooked based on marketing alone. So please read it, if you are so inclined. It would please me if you did. Then we could not talk about it together....