Hope within a Thurible || Days of Blood and Starlight Review

Initial Thoughts: 

Dead. I have died and Karou needs to exist to glean my soul into a thurible so she can resurrect me as a monster. This book hurts so much it’s a miracle that I’VE not learned the power of invisibility (because in the book, magic is caused by a sort of pain). And OH MY GOD, WHAT HAVE THEY ALL DONE.

Dead, I tell you. Dead.


DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT

by Laini Taylor
Little, Brown Books, November 2012
YA fantasy, paranormal
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

Let me talk to you first about how Daughter of Smoke and Bone broke me just a bit.

A while back, I’d read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and was practically heartbroken by the end, because not only was the setup to the next book so positively cliffhangery, there was just so much sadness in the wake of so much happiness and DAMMIT LAINI TAYLOR WHY WOULD YOU WRENCH MY HEARTSTRINGS SO?!

That was three years ago. I’ve since been so utterly inspired by Laini Taylor that not only have I baked my way through Prague, I went and lived the dream. I went to Prague, and solely because I wanted to live in Karou’s shoes, even for a little while. Smoke and Bone was such an integral part of my desire to travel to fictional and non-fictional worlds, and once more, Days of Blood and Starlight delivered on that level.

The kasbah was a castle built of earth, one of the hundreds that studded these southern reaches of Morocco, where they had baked in the sun for centuries. Once, they had been home to warrior clans and all their retinue. They were primeval fortresses, proud and red and tall, with crenellations like the hooked teeth of vipers, and arcane Berber patterns etched on the high, smooth walls.

I was transported to Morocco, to its heat and desert sands, to Marrakesh and Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou. For a brief moment, I lived in an Eretzian sandcastle filled with monsters, and I followed angels to the heart of its seraphim empire in Astrae.

And by all the godstars, I’ll be damned if I don’t go to Morocco as one of my vacation destinations.

Warning: Now here’s the part where you might want to turn away if you don’t like spoilers. Because as this is the second installment of a trilogy, expect me to be talking about things happening in the first book.

Blood and Starlight continues the story of Daughter of Smoke and Bone and opens back in Prague, where most of the supernatural events occurred, making the public aware that angels exist. Talk of the blue-haired Karou continues, and in the eve of it, Zuzana wonders what’s happened to her best friend. While the media and the public eventually die down in search of the flying blue-haired girl (and onto supernatural teeth-thieves), it is not so in Eretz.

Eretz is rife with war, and it gets worse now that Thiago is back and exacting vengeance upon the chimaera’s slavers: the seraphim. On the other side stands Akiva, the Beast’s Bane, and his seraphim brothers and sisters, fighting a war that never seems to end.

If the first book was merciless in its depiction of the casualties of endless warfare, this second book takes it to a brutally higher level. Days of Blood and Starlight is DARK. And BLEAK. And TERRIBLY VIOLENT.

“Dead souls dream only of death. Small dreams for small men. It is life that expands to fill worlds. Life is your master, or death is. Look at you. You are a lord of ashes, a lord of char. You are filthy with your victory…You are lord of a country of ghosts, and that is all that you will ever be.”

I don’t think there’s a more perfect quote to describe Eretz in this story as the quote above. The world is bleak, and there’s a lot of blood spilled on both sides, painting a world where neither seraphim nor chimaera are innocent of their actions. And to top it off, Karou and Akiva are on the opposite sides of the spectrum, their parting of ways in Smoke and Bone one filled with hatred and sorrow. Honestly, I found myself putting this book down very often, because of the star-crossed lovers trope, because it’s clear that Laini was going to use everything in her power to keep these two separate in a bleak story of war where characters are hanging onto the tiniest sliver of hope.

You’re not going to find any Akiva-Karou quotes in this review, because I die inside over and over again reading those passages. DAMMIT JUST GET BACK TOGETHER ALREADY, YOU GUYS.

So let me keep going. There are characters in Blood and Starlight that get a bit more limelight. Besides Karou and Akiva, there are several little POVs that reflect the thoughts of various characters in the book. Liraz, Ziri, as well as Zuzana and Mik are given POV scenes, which adds to the story. Occasionally I found this a bit distracting, because here I am, reading and captivated by a scene, and suddenly, instead of Karou or Akiva’s POV in the next chapter, I got a fistful of other characters. I got used to it by the end, and by that point, I was actually relieved to find some of the breakage in Karou and Akiva POVs. There’s only so much heartbreak I could take after all.

“Is life worth keeping on with, whatever happens?”

“Yes,” he said, wary, thinking of the thurible, and Karou. “As long as you’re alive, there’s always a chance things will get better.”

“Or worse,” said Liraz.

“Yes,” he conceded. “Usually worse.”

Hazael cut in. “My sister, Sunshine, and my brother, Light. You two should rally the ranks. You’ll have us all killing ourselves by morning.”

And can I just talk about how much I love Akiva’s Misbegotten siblings? It was hard to gauge Liraz and Hazael in Smoke and Bone, because their first appearance was out of anger and hatred for chimaera. Liraz and Hazael came down to kill Karou–as had Akiva, really–only to be thwarted by their Misbegotten brother. It was a blow to Liraz and Hazael, because Akiva was the closest half-brother they had, hence there’s a lot of tension in the beginning of Blood and Starlight. Past that, though, the twin seraphim are closer in thought to Akiva than Akiva expected, and honestly, I found this the best relationship of siblings ever.

“Neek-neek, afraid? I don’t believe it.” There was a ferocity in the tiny Zuzana that had started Virko calling her neek-neek, after a growlsome breed of shrew-scorpion known for facing down predators ten times its size.

And, of course, there’s no talking about the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy without Zuzana. Zuzana is seriously THE BEST ever. She’s a human with a healthy curiosity and a loyalty to Karou that defies worlds. At this point, she’s already hooked up with Mik, a violinist, and the two of them–mostly Zuzana–spend a great deal of their time in Prague in search of Karou’s whereabouts. The beginning chapters have some hilarious emails from Zuzana asking if Karou is dead, and I swear, without her and Mik bringing a bit of humor and wonder and excitement into this book, there wouldn’t be much of a silver lining anywhere else. (Well, maybe Hazael. Hazael was a peach, too.)

There was a note…in archaic Seraphic, in a feminine hand, and stamped with a wax seal depicting a scarab beetle: Thank you, but we must respectfully decline your overture, being more enjoyably occupied at present.

A lot of Blood and Starlight–which seems to be the case for most second books of trilogies–was leading up to an even greater conflict that would not only involve chimaera versus seraphim, but also humans and monsters, and angels against angels. I was a bit of a mess by the end of the book, because a TON of shit happens, and Karou and Akiva are forced together in light of a common enemy. Which means they’re at close proximity, BUT DAMMIT LAINI WHY ARE THEY STILL NOT SNOGGING EACH OTHER?!

Uh, okay. I got a bit heated there. Don’t mind me.

By the end of Blood and Starlight, I’m wondering many things. I want to know about Stelia, about Akiva’s explosively potent magic, and most of all, I definitely want to know how two different armies will try to coexist.

Also…I’m going to have to scrounge up some Moroccan-inspired foods at some point.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! Ugh, if my ship sails and sinks by the end of the third book, I might very well be inconsolable.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I’m fresh off a Nightmare Before Christmas viewing, so mostly I found myself wanting to start this review with “This is Halloween! This is Halloween! Halloween Halloween!” And then cue Jack Skellington coming up in style.

But this post is about a book. A ghost book.

Still, I couldn’t have asked for better timing, it being Halloween and all.


ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD

by Kendare Blake
Tor Teen, 2011
YA paranormal fantasy
Rated: cookieratingcookieratingcookieratingcookiehalfrating / 5 cookies

annadressedbloodCas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

Yet she spares Cas’s life.

What I Loved

Eye-catching cover. I’d seen Blake’s Girl of Nightmares first (the second and final book of the Anna duology), and loved the cover of that. Then I saw Anna Dressed in Blood and thought it was so much cooler. And admittedly a bit creepier, considering we don’t see Anna’s face, and for all I know, she could be totally ratchet behind all that hair. Like, The Grudge ratchet. Doesn’t turn out that way, but you never know.

That tagline made me giggle. It seriously went like this:

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story…

Granted, it’s not the best tagline ever, and it probably could be said about a bunch of other wonderful books, but this is coming from what I thought was a horror book, about a crazy ghost out for vengeance and a ghost hunter who eventually thinks the ghost has gone far enough. Then Cas starts getting the feels for Anna and all shit gets surreal. Much like the tagline.

Liking the primary ghost antagonist way too much. Well, admittedly I liked her the minute she showed up. And when she does show up, I always feel like saying, “Anna. Anna Dressed in Blood. Anna, you’re dripping, honey, don’t ruin the floors!” She’s a frightening sight, to be sure, and the fact that she can render a human being positively limbless makes her even more intimidating. Fortunately, she’s limited to her quaint Victorian house in Ontario, which is far north and away from my quaint little house in Jersey. Granted, I’m pretty sure we have a bannik in our bathtub, but that’s a whole other matter entirely.

Imagining Cas as Dean from Supernatural. Cas isn’t very good at being humble-braggy, to be honest. There’s a point in the book where he contemplates the possibilities as to why girls are easier for him to talk to, and one of his bulletpoints included the fact that he might be easy on the eyes. I’m actually surprised nobody pegged him for “that guy in Supernatural“, especially when there was so much allusion to Ghostbusters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Still, since I don’t really know how Theseus Cassio looks like (and what a name, by the way!), I’m totally imagining him as Dean.

Love/Hate Relationships

The seemingly two-dimensional characters. Besides Cas and Anna, I didn’t really warm up to the characters up until the last fifty pages or so. Thomas still seemed like a hanger-on throughout the book, and only near the end he finds his footing. Same thing with Carmel. Cas’ mom and surrogate father-figure also played quite a bit of a role in Cas’ life, but I always found their involvements incomplete, Gideon especially. But like I said, I did wind up liking the characters near the end. Maybe because all the annoying ones kind of just…get killed off. Ho hum.

What I Didn’t Like

I expected to be scared, not grossed out. There was some comparison between this book and Rin Chupeco’s The Girl from the Well, and I think comparing the two books has little merits. For one, the style and tone are completely different. Yes, there’s a murdered girl involved. Yes, these girls totally deserve exacting vengeance on the wicked. No, Anna and Okiku are not the same kind of girl. Which is a good thing in some respects. All the same, The Girl from the Well–which I’d reviewed previously–brought on an amount of scary that I felt was lacking in Anna Dressed in Blood. True, the descriptions of mangled bodies and bloody corpses were horrifying in every respect, but it was horrifying in a cringe-worthy way, not a “afraid to go near a window in case long, slender arms grab you through the glass” kind of horrifying. There was ultimately one instance where I’d gotten nervous (and just a bit scared) for the characters–but that had nothing to do with Anna and all to do with the things that go bump in the attic.

That dialogue, though. I don’t think I could quote anything of what the characters said to each other. They weren’t very interesting, to be honest. I rather liked the visual descriptions being given to everything. Cas himself was a good and entertaining narrator. When the characters broke out into dialogue, though, it was kind of underwhelming to have to trudge through their conversations. Even Anna’s mother had uninteresting things to say.

3.5 out of 5 cookies! I did enjoy the book. It shined in its fast pace and description. Anna Korlov herself was a star ghost, both terrifying and beautiful and every bit as ghosty as the next.


 

annadressedblood-carmel

 

ARC Review: Portraits of Celina by Sue Whiting

It’s a new year so I’ve decided to add something sweet to my book reviews! Well, cookie ratings anyway. I figure since I don’t have much time to make/bake something every time I read a book, I might as well show how much of the book I devoured by cookie measurement! Not that that’s too hard to understand–it’s really just me adapting the Goodreads ratings to baked goods. Yep.


PORTRAITS OF CELINA

by Sue Whiting
Switch Press, April 2015
YA paranormal
provided by Netgalley
Rated: cookieratingcookieratingcookierating /5

celina“Make him pay, Bayley. Make him pay.”

It’s as if the wooden chest is luring me, urging me to open it – daring me almost. Open me up. Look inside. Come on, just for a second; it won’t hurt.

A ghost story. A love story. A story of revenge. Celina O’Malley was sixteen years old when she disappeared. Now, almost forty years later, Bayley is sleeping in Celina’s room, wearing her clothes, hearing her voice. What does Celina want? And who will suffer because of it?

Jumbly Thoughts

I’m not a very avid reader of ghost stories because I tend to get spooked out by some of them. I avoid ghost movies for the same reason (actually, I avoid horror movies if I can get away with them!). There are, of course, times when I am in the mood for scary stories, and Portraits of Celina was something that promised a mystery, some revenge, and a bit of spookiness.

The beginning certainly delivered in those respects. We have Bayley, a 16-year-old whose family is coping with a death. At the insistence of her depressed mother, the family moves to an old cottage in the middle of bumblefudge for a fresh start. (On a random note, other than the Australian city-name-drops and the fact that some of the conversations were more along the lines of the land down under, it was really difficult to pinpoint this nondescript town to anywhere, which made it doubly hard to visualize.) Only, how much of a fresh start can you really get when you’re living in a decrepit cottage that used to belong to a family whose daughter Celina–a spitting image of Bayley–mysteriously disappears?

And then there’s the weird feelings Bayley gets about her room–Celina’s room. And that chest with Celina’s clothes that Bayley has a compulsion to wear. And that eerie portrait of Celina and her family. I mean, something has to be wrong with that, right?

That’s where the spooky ends, however, because once the backdrop and the story continue, it just gets boring and slightly annoying. It is clear that Celina’s ghostly presence is around and haunting Bayley, and it is clear that Celina wants Bayley to exact revenge on her killer. What annoyed me about this was the fact that I did not find Celina likable at all. Not even through the perspectives of those who loved her. She just sounded like a manipulative, conniving high-schooler trying to exact revenge. With a couple million dollars, she might even give Emily Thorne a run for her money.

And then there’s all of that background noise Bayley has to deal with that she technically doesn’t deal with at all. Her sister’s a drunken party animal, her brother acts like he’s five and not seven, her mother is in a mostly self-inflicted breakdown. Even the love interest just felt wrong–in that he’s conveniently hot and popular and suddenly there’s a new chick in town and he’s head over heels in love with her.

Needless to say by the time the actual mystery is solved I was rooting for the murderer more than I was for Celina or Bayley. And that’s a problem, especially when the way the murderer got rid of Celina’s body was pretty morbid and sick and NOT something to root for. Admittedly, the whole portrait thing came to light and at the end of the “villain’s” monologue (yes, he monologued), I was beginning to see the rhyme and reason and cleverness of the title and the “portraits” of Celina.

A ghost story? Yeah. A revenge story? Kind of. A love story? Lols no. Still, the book hit a few spooky ridges and the first half of the story certainly kept me wanting to know more.


3 out of 5 cookies!