Monday, February 25, 2013

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst

Genre: YA fantasy
Pages: 424 (hardcover)
Published: 2012 by Margaret K. McElderberry


Liyana has always held a unique position within the nomadic desert tribe which are her family and her world: she is a vessel, marked as special by the goddess of her tribe from birth.  As a vessel, Liyana knows and accepts that she is destined to die so that her goddess may inhabit her body and bring peace and all-important rain to her people.  But when the goddess Bayla fails to come during the long-awaited summoning ceremony, Liyana despairs that she must not be worthy-- and her tribe, despairing over the famine which will surely destroy them, abandons the would-be goddess girl in the desert to fend or die for herself.  

Joined by Korbyn, a powerful trickster god in the body of a handsome young vessel who promises to help Liyana save her tribe by sacrificing herself, Liyana sets off across the desert in search of those other vessels whose gods failed to show up.  But as she discovers her own strength, bravery, and a tentative romance with Korbyn, Liyana begins to have rebellious thoughts: she isn't so sure she wants to die so that her goddess can live, or that any desert teenager should have to make such a sacrifice.  

This is the first book I've read by Sarah Beth Durst, but I will definitely be interested to check out the (apparently numerous) other novels she has out there.  Vessel has a really unique premise and world setting-- the desert lands of Liyana's and the other tribes make for a harsh and forbidding lifestyle.  The tribes tell stories of gods and goddesses who are very human-- they fight and love and even inhabit the bodies of young humans called vessels.  Without the help of their gods, the clans would perish from drought and famine.  Meanwhile, the more "civilized" Crescent Empire is also in the midst of a great famine and their young emperor has a vision that the empire's salvation might be found in the unlikely locale of the barren desert.  Durst does a really excellent job introducing us to Liyana's life and world, where magic is as real as the deadly sand wolves which stalk tribal camps and family is everything.

Moving onto the characters... Liyana is that rare female YA protagonist who I didn't have any major peeves with.  She is sort of indoctrinated with the belief that her life is meant to be given to her goddess and that she is a failure when the goddess does not come to inhabit her body, but in the context it totally makes sense that she would have this kind of calm acceptance towards the sacrifice she must make.  Her family and clan are everything to her and vessels are so much a part of her culture that she knows her intended role very well.  As she meets Korbyn and they go off in search of the other vessels, it becomes clear that Liyana is more than the girl chosen for her "flawless" prettiness so that the goddess would be pleased with her.  Here we have a strong heroine who is not afraid to take action or reckless chances when she must-- oh, very good!
For the longest time, lifeless female protagonists who don't/won't act or think for themselves has been a major pet peeve of mine with fiction, on the list with the mandatory love triangle and constant recycling of the same descriptive words (typically words like "rippling" and "glimmering", also typically words found in paranormal romance).  But I really do think authors are getting much, much better at creating heroines who are somewhere between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, you know, Bella Swan-- believably likeable and inspiring fictional women.  (Recent female characters in books I've read have even somewhat helped me to forget the nightmare that was Aurorarama.)

The other vessels in the novel besides Liyana are all very different from one another, in how they react to their gods' not showing up: one girl dreams of running away to the empire, where she will not be forced to give up her life for her goddess's, while another peacefully accepts her fate.  Korbyn, the trickster god inhabiting a desert boy's body, is the stand-out character apart from Liyana.  He is not just a supernatural pretty boy thrown in as a love interest (yay, for divergent YA!), and is definitely not your conventional love interest.  I was very surprised, but basically happy, with the way the romantic sub-plot turned out in this book. But yeah, Korbyn was pretty awesome.

The pacing of Vessel was not so fast-- probably just quick enough to keep a reader's interest, but my growing love for the characters was enough to make me read on despite some occasional slooow moments.  All in all, my consensus is just that Sarah Beth Durst clearly has a spectacular imagination.  She has taken a completely unique story in an unconventional setting, created a whole huge mythology for this world, and then created lovable and strong characters to interact with a intriguing plot.  This is how one crafts a great YA fantasy novel-- 5 stars!


Sunday, February 24, 2013

In My Mailbox #29: The Post-Hiatus Edition

I really (hopefully) mean it when I say "post-hiatus"!  The reality is that I just don't have as much time to read and blog as I did during high school, but I'm determined to post and participate more.  In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren, in which bloggers show off all the fantastic, shiny-new (or library-borrowed) books we received over the past week.  I didn't get as many new books as usual, despite the blog's short hiatus, but there are a few exciting new books waiting on my shelves:

 Here's what I got:

Books-- YA & Adult:

I've already ripped my way through the pages of the amazing read that is Hannah Moskowitz's Teeth.   I read Fire, too, a long time back, but don't really remember it as well as Graceling other than that it is very good.

 Throne of the Crescent Moon is an adult fantasy set in a world resembling the Middle East in the earlier days of Islam, maybe around the Arabian Nights era.  It's a relatively little-known compared to some other fantasy epics-- even though it was nominated for the Nebula-- but I do like... lots of ghul-hunters, desert shapeshifters, and alchemy.

Manga & Graphic Novels:

Blue Exorcist is a shonen manga series which I think is so far pretty great-- it's really exciting with cool, vague concepts (typical for guys' manga) and pretti-ful art (not as typical for guys' manga). I will probably do a series review for it after I read a few more volumes, like with Library Wars, 'cause I don't like to review manga volume-by-volume.  Darker Than Black is a manga based off a popular anime series which I've never seen...but the art is very easy on the eyes (I am a sucker for eye-candy art) and the story seems interesting.
What did you get in your mailbox this week?  I'd love to check out your posts-- just leave me a link and I'll be sure to visit back!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Classically Readable #3: Treasure Island

 Genre: classics/ historical adventure
Pages: around 250 pages, depending on the edition
Published: first published 1883


I can't honestly say that Treasure Island wasn't exactly what I expected it to be, but that's by no means a bad thing.  It is the classic adventure story, beloved by children and adults for over a century.  This is the book which more or less gave birth to the modern image of the swashbuckling, peg-legged/one-eyed pirate-- plot-wise, I saw some major fodder for modern pirate films like Cutthroat Island and Pirates of the Caribbean.  All in all, Treasure Island is far from a timeless thought-provoker, but it is a classic worth reading all the same.

Our protagonist Jim Hawkins is a young innkeeper's son who is half-fascinated and half-terrified by the little English inn's long-time resident, an intimidating, seafaring drunk who prefers to be known only as "The Captain".  Following the Captain's exciting demise and the arrival of a band of loathsome pirates (with various physical disfigurements), Jim chances to find a treasure map hidden away in the dead Captain's chest.  Having recruited the game Dr. Livesey and some of his noble friends to sail to this mysterious treasure island, Jim joins the schooner crew as a cabin boy.  Enter Long John Silver, one of the most infamous and ambiguous of all literary villains.  Silver, a ship's cook who charms both Livesey and Jim, gets together a crew of his sailing buddies to join in on the treasure-hunting adventure.  The fabled island is discovered amidst a mutiny at sea and there is a battle for the treasure booty between Jim and Livesey's party and Silver's mutineering ex-pirates.

There are two interesting characters in Treasure Island: Jim Hawkins, our narrator, and Long John Silver.  Jim struggles to decide what and who to believe, as the seemingly charming and honest John Silver reassures him time and time again that sticking with Silver is his best chance at surviving the deadly conflicts between the two parties which rage over sea and land.  He's a clever, likeable protagonist from humble beginnings, and he's a really great narrator.  (Stevenson's writing style is not what you would call old-fashioned, either-- this book is one of the easiest 19th century novels I've ever read).  Silver definitely has the reputation of being one of fiction's greatest villains, but I also think he must be one of the most interesting.  After years at sea, during which he lost a leg and served as a quartermaster and ship's cook, John Silver has the strange twin reputation of being both a friendly, helpful man and a cunning, brutal one, depending on who one asks.  His seemingly morally ambiguous character and his unexpected fate at the novel's end both totally defy villain conventions which are still standard today, and were even more standard in the 1800s when Stevenson wrote Treasure Island.

Treasure Island was not originally published as a novel, surprisingly enough, but as a serial in a children's magazine titled The Mutiny of the Hispaniola.  On one level, the book can be considered a pretty typical, if especially exciting, adventure story of the era in the tradition of the ever-popular Robinson Crusoe.  Having read it, I think that it must be Stevenson's fantastic prose which has made the novel so immortal in children's literature and literature as a whole, along with the characters of John Silver and Jim.  The story itself has as many twists and scallywag characters as your typical Pirates of the Caribbean movie, except that Treasure Island's story actually makes sense and, you know, there aren't any skeletal pirates or vicious, man-eating mermaids hanging around.  In the end, this book is by no means a mind-blowing read, but it is fun, influential, and fast-paced classic which is still deserving of its classic status.

Book Rating:

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Genre: YA fantasy & romance
Pages: 292 (hardcover)
Published: 2012 by Harper Teen

Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn't believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.

Peter is unlike anyone she's ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland's inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything--her family, her future--to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she's always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.

With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it's the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who's everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.

My Review:

Tiger Lily is a story perhaps more bittersweet even than the original classic tale of Peter Pan.  As a reader with a meh opinion of the original Peter Pan, I found Jodi Lynn Anderson's clever and heartbreaking retelling to be much more readable.  It's always a nice surprise when fanfiction turns out to be wonderful, even "published fanfiction".  I love the fresh perspective of Tiger Lily, and the way Anderson delves deep into the background of both the previously silent main character and the whole multi-layered world of Neverland. 

The story is narrated not by Tiger Lily, but by Tinkerbell (as Peter comes to call the little faery who trails after him and Tiger Lily).  The sparkly, blond faery Tink with her jealous hissy fits who we're familiar with from the Disney adaptation is a far cry from the narrator of this book, though.  Readers will definitely come to appreciate Tink's better qualities: her headstrong personality, her loyalty (again, forget the Disney version where she sells Peter out to Captain Hook), and most of all, her engaging first person voice.  The novel reads as if it's narrated by a really close friend, one who sees all the happenings in Neverland and never withholds her opinions on them.

The world of Neverland is incredibly well-drawn and leads to such a good suspension-of-disbelief that I never once questioned mute faeries sleeping on windowsills, dinosaurs inhabiting a corner of the island, or man-eating mermaids.  By giving not-so-subtle hints that Neverland is actually the North American continent prior to the mass arrival of Europeans, the author gives Tiger Lily's tribe a sense of dignity and tradition-- which is sooo necessary after what sorta-racist '50s Disney did with "What Made the Red Man Red?"  

Tiger Lily herself is an outcast among her close-knit tribe, having been born in another and adopted by Tik Tok, the tribe's shaman and the closest thing they have to a leader.  She is a wild girl, different from the other young women in her village, quiet but fierce.  Her character is one who we come to care about, sympathizing with her for her outcast status and, as Tink does, her love for Peter Pan.  The Lost Boys do not immediately come into the novel, but Peter becomes a major player quite suddenly, when we least expect it.  

The Lost Boys of Tiger Lily are indeed somewhat lost: they have no family and have never known girls other than Peter's mermaid friends; some of them remember being shipwrecked from England.  In this novel, Peter Pan is an interesting character, though I was disappointed to see, one without a true back story.  He is truly a wild boy, and apparently has always been, moving silently through the jungle with his tribe of Lost Boys and, of course, evading the persistent Captain James Hook.  Hook appears pretty rarely in Tiger Lily, this being Tiger Lily's story, but he does have a intriguing backstory.  Surprisingly, the pirate who has the most shining moments is Smee, also known as Hook's big-bellied sidekick in the striped shirt.  I won't give away any spoilers as to how Anderson interprets the character of Smee, but it's pretty wild.   

Tiger Lily is a captivating read, with vividly re-interpreted characters.  The ending is not exactly a happy one, as the very first line of the novel proclaims, but there is a great deal of bitter-sweetness throughout the whole story.  I was surprised by how much I loved this book, and I think those who are on the fence about it should give Tiger Lily a read.

Book Rating:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

In My Mailbox #28: The Library Raid Edition

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi over at The Story Siren.  The goal of the meme: share all the awesome books we received/bought/borrowed over the past week and hopefully put new books on people's radars.

On a more personal note: This blog has been undergoing another lengthy hiatus for the past three weeks, for the same reason it did last time: with a new semester starting, and being at a new university, I haven't had much time to read, let alone blog.  BUT, I'm dedicated to posting much more regularly now, as I get into the swing of the new semester.  I've really missed blogging during my short hiatus and reading all the blogs I like to keep up with.  Anyway, here's my latest book haul from the last few weeks:

Here's what I got:
From The Library/ YA Books:

My library's YA section just had tons of enticing new books yesterday!  I really want to read Grave Mercy, which is about medieval nuns who are assassins and the "handmaidens of Death" (craziest premise ever), and Vessel, which sounds like the most unique story by the amazing Sarah Beth Durst.  Graffiti Moon is a book I've seen on Australian bloggers' favorites lists for years; and finally, I have had The Drowned Cities on my Goodreads to-read list for time unknown.

 Manga/Graphic Novels:

Let's see: A Bride's Story is the third volume in a manga series whose debut I reviewed here.  I really love the beautiful art in this series.  Blue Exorcist is a new popular shonen manga which I've been wanting to read, and Angel Sanctuary is an old fantasy series by one of my favorite manga-kas.

Kindle E-books:

Tiger Lily will definitely be one of my next reviews.  I don't want to let the feeling of having experienced how awesome it is fade even a little bit.  I'm reading The Winter Sea now and liking it, though it's not my usual kind of book.

What's in your mailbox this weekend?  Leave the link to your post when you comment and I'll be sure to come check out your latest bookish acquisitions.  :)

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