Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review: Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

The big downside of being a reviewer is that, if you dig too far into a genre, you start judging books for what they could be instead of what they are. And this isn't necessarily a problem - there are books that are such a waste of potential, it's criminal - but for others, it's extremely easy to start nit-picking and before you know it, you're getting hung up over the small stuff and missing a great read.

"Keturah and Lord Death" is a story you need to take as is.

No, really. Stop thinking right now. Go gently - this is a book to be savoured.

Keturah Reeve is 16 years old when she gets lost into the forest. After wandering for three days without finding her way back to the village, she meets her death, and Lord Death is in a gracious mood. After he lets slip that the plague is coming, she strikes a deal with him - if he lets her live for one more day, and she finds and weds her true love in that time, he will let relinquish his claim on her soul. But if Keturah fails, she will come to him willingly and be his bride. 

What follows is a beautiful tale of what it means to live and love, accompanied by some of the most gorgeous prose I have had the pleasure of reading in a long, long time.

"We all know Lord Death. Do I see him as you do? No. But it is closeness to him  that imbues my stuffs with power. What is a love potion without the breath of him upon it? How can I make a healing drought without sensing from which direction he comes? One day you will understand, Keturah, that he infuses the very air we breathe with magic."

-p 52, Paperback edition

This isn't a very long story. In fact, it's the closest thing to a fairy tale that I have come across that hasn't been written 200 years ago. At only 210 pages (judging from my paperback) it's the kind of story that you can imagine being told around a fire (as the prologue suggests.) 

The characters can seem a little flat, what with us meeting so many of them and having quite a few plot threads to wrap up, but there are enough details peppered throughout the narrative that make them just interesting enough - Gretta's pride, and Beatrice's selflessness, the Tailor and the Choirmaster and the young master John, everyone shows character in the scenes they are in, and every last bit of dialogue is meaningful. I'd go as far as saying that more books need to be like this - less faff, more meaning. 

And it's not a random stylistic decision, either. Although Keturah manages to extend her extra time for three whole days, she goes about each knowing that it could be her last. The result is her running at a frantic pace, trying to save her village, help her friends and find her one true love, but instead of making the reader feel rushed, the pace just goes to add to the overall feeling of the book. It is literally following someone who knows Death is coming for her and trying to make the most of everything.

That's really the story's main point - it is not the love story (though I find it beautiful) nor is it the action (though there is enough of that) - but rather that we appreciate life most when we understand there is a finite number of days we have. (In the afterword, the author mentions that the book is, in part, a tribute to a loved one, so there is little surprise there.) This doesn't make you cry, but it makes you shiver a little, and afterwards, it is like everything else is a little bit brighter. 

Note: image via BookLikes. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 Reread Challenge

It's 2015 and, as a friend of mine reminded us all on Facebook, the angels are about to start attacking Tokyo-3. Those of you who have seen Evangelion will know what happens next. Humanity is now taking back-up pilot applications. We'll try to make the process as quick as possible, but it all depends on how quickly we can make Jagers to compete with NERV's offerings.

In all seriousness, though, it's now the 2nd January and we're all bursting with good intentions. I'm super-excited to have signed up for Novel HeartBeat's Prequels and Sequels challenge for this year, but I wanted to do a little something extra for 2015 too.

Ever read a book that is so awesome, it literally knocks you off your feet, and all you want to do is rhapsodize about how awesome it is? Or a book that plunges you into complete existential crisis (not unlike the last two episodes of Evangelion?) Or a story that all you want to do is read again and again, but your TBR is threatening to collapse on top of you, so you just give it an honorary place on your bookshelf and resolve to get back to it when you have more time?

2014 was the year I realized just how I've changed as both a reader and a reviewer. Series that I originally loathed turned out to surprise me in their second and third installments, series that I loved turned out to be disappointing (for reasons that I would have never thought of previously) and books that I previously did not read because I was sick and tired of lit-snobbery made me smile and enjoy myself like I hadn't before. (I also read a ton of romance and erotica and enjoyed it completely unironically. Oh, if my schoolmates could see me now!) 

As for my reviewing style, a cursory look through Goodreads might yield the answer to that particular question. I've either mellowed out a lot, or I don't have the energy to spend on long, vitriolic posts describing just how much I hate something and everything that's wrong with it. 

Which you might argue is the same thing.

Either way, it's made me curious about all these books that I used to love and that I enjoyed. I wonder how they would hold up afterwards, and if I will enjoy them as much as I used to. 

Hence my 2015 re-read challenge: I will strive to read at least 10 books that I have read (and hopefully, reviewed) and then post my thoughts here for your viewing pleasure. I won't just be checking out books that are the first parts of series that I need to finish (although I discovered that my memories of Queen of the Dead are quite scarce, though I remember loving it to bits.) They might also not be just YA, which means I might either just review them on BookLikes, or put them here if you prefer. (Or offer them up to Bibliodaze, if they'll have me.)

So would you like to join me for this? 

Are there books on your favorites shelf that you are dying to revisit, or haven't thought of at all since you read and you want to get back to, or ones that jump out at you while you browse? 

For myself, I can tell you, there are a lot:

- The Ghost and the Goth series by Stacy Kade
- Sputnik Sweetheart and Kafka on Shore by Haruki Murakami (both of which I loved as a teen and both of which I'd like to revisit again)
- Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
- Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
- Anything and everything by Hannah Moskowitz
- Sloppy Firsts and everything else Jessica Darling by Megan McCafferty
- Sabriel by Garth Nix
- Heart's Blood by Juliet Mariller
- The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg
- Nevermore by Kelly Creagh
- The Lathe of Heaven and the Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
- The Tent by Margaret Atwood
- Ward Against Death by Melanie Card

And so on and so forth. 

What about you? Any books you might particularly love to read again? 

And would you like to see some non-YA reviews up on the Lantern, or would you rather have it as purely YA?

Note: All images via Booklikes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas and a Message for 2015

I’ve started early on my New Year’s resolutions. I didn’t set out to, I just so happened to sign up for a half marathon and realized that, if I were to do it, I had to start training way before what Marian Keyes refers to as burlap month (i.e. January.) It kinda grew from there, expanding into other things I wanted to do. And you know what? I'm glad this is how it turned up.

That's not to say that, come January 1st, I won't get caught up with the communal health kick and strict budgeting that is so on trend once the holidays are over, we're back at work or school, and we wonder why we spent so much money on cookie cutters we use only once. (Tough questions, those.) But this year, I'll be aware of it. And I hope that this awareness actually leads me to making a positive change in my life.

See, I have this theory, about why New Year's resolutions don't work (for me.) It's the same reason why Christmas morning is always a little anticlimactic (for me,) and that reason, friends, is the Hype. The expectations. The movie you have running inside your head in the lead-up to something, the movie that plays when you're buying presents, planning a party, drawing up elaborate lists of things you will do in the new year or places you will visit. The movie which is always, always, always better than reality. (I mean, I know I have a fertile imagination, but let's be real - it can't be just me doing it.) 

Of course, the problem with focusing on the future means you lose touch with reality. And I don't mean it like you're going around bumping into things because there's Christmas music playing everywhere - it's an issue of logistics.

Sure, it'll be great to buy everyone all of the presents, but if you go overboard, there's always the chance that you will outdo everyone in that department, and then you'll be disappointed when they stuck to budget/didn't put as much thought into it as you did. Or, you could promise to run a (half) marathon and mean it, but let me tell you - good intention will not get you through the reality of training for one. (Hell, even wellness/weight-loss motivation won't help you. Not after you figure out that running will most likely make you gain weight, because otherwise your joints will fall apart.) 

I'm not arguing against resolutions, mind you. Or buying presents. By all means, buy all of the presents. Or make them. Or write a nice letter to everyone you love telling them exactly how much you love them. Regardless of how disgusting you find the whole Christmas branding thing, and the Boxing Day sales, pen and paper are fairly commonplace, and there is something precious about giving someone a written testament of your love.

Because at the end of the day, the holidays are not about presents. They're about love, (said Dr. Seuss.) And resolutions aren't about weight loss, they're about making a change in your life that makes you feel good about yourself. It's not the stuff that matters, it's the feeling. The symbol, not the animus. And those things are hard work. 

Starting on my resolutions early didn't just help me prepare for the reality of them - it showed me that I could do them, and that I wanted to do them, not because I was driven by guilt or shame or a sub-par yearly review. And besides, we still have a whole week of 2014 left - that's 365 more hours of awesome that we can cram in.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and rock on, y'all. 


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review: Prodigy by Marie Lu

I was surprised, when doing my 2014 prequels and sequels round-up, that I didn't have a review of "Prodigy" up. I thought I did. I definitely remembered reading it and having a minor crisis over the ending. I suspect I set writing the review aside, wanting to give it my full attention in exploring the themes of this deep, challenging book...

Or maybe I just didn't have much to write about?

Day and June are on the run from the Republic. Injured and strapped for cash, they head for Las Vegas to try and join the Patriots, who have just the assignment for them. The Elector Primo has just died and his son Anden is not yet established with the military, and the time is ripe for havoc. The Patriots offer to infiltrate June into the Elector's entourage and, with her help, have Day assassinate the Elector. In return, the Patriots would heal Day and help reunite him with his brother. All things seem to go according to plan, until June actually gets to know Anden and realizes that a bloody revolution may not be the best answer to the problems of the Republic. 

Which, actually, is a stance I really like. Coincidentally, so does this book.

Has anyone noticed how a lot of these new YA dystopias seem to center around one protagonist trying to chop off the head of the snake, and once this bad guy is dead and gone, everything becomes all hunky-dory? Very few series actually acknowledge that the problem is bigger than the EEL of one individual (excellent evil leadership, in case you were wondering.) More often than not, a regime has a whole structure, both formal and societal, that keeps it in place, and the leader is the least of your problems. 

(Aside: do you think the lack of acknowledgement is an American thing, or a product of the times? After all, Orwell and Zamyatin weren't afraid to point out the problem was with everyone, not just the evil bogeymen in charge. Perhaps these days we're less inclined to admit that we contributed to things being the way they are?)

My philosophical inclinations aside, this book is pretty solid on all fronts - offering us a glimpse at structural failures on both sides of the border and asking some tough questions. Day and June are forced to think about what their relationship means in the long run and for everyone around them - whether they like it or not, they have been turned into the symbols of two opposing ideologies, and having a "private life" is impossible when there are tens of thousands of people following your every move and imbuing it with meaning. (A cigar is never just a cigar, kids.) 

And yeah, I wonder what discussions we'd have if we used this book as springboard. I'm a social scientist. But it's also plain fun to read, which explains why people praise it so much. Some of the metaphors and messages come across as heavy-handed, and the secondary characters tend to err more on the side of good or bad rather than morally ambiguous, but hey, it's a polarizing situation.

Writing about this now, I'm surprised I didn't grab Champion as soon as it was available. 

Oh, wait.

I remember.