Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Summary: Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

My Thoughts: I started this and wasn’t very interested in the beginning. I actually read a few other books while reading this–I kept coming back to it between other novels, because even though I was a little annoyed at first by our main character, Karou, I was still intrigued enough to keep reading. I’m glad I did, because the author definitely came through in the end.

Great world-building. I don’ t think I’ve read anything like Taylor’s world of angels, chimaera, and humans living in parallel universes. My only gripe (and the thing that kept me from being too involved in the beginning) was the sort of Mary-Sue aspect of Karou. She was a little too perfectly quirky, perfectly mysterious, perfectly beautiful. But as I kept reading she developed more dimensions and became less of a cardboard cut-out of somebody’s dream life and became a real person.

As for the romantic chemistry, I wasn’t as drawn into it as I thought I would be. I am mostly intrigued by, again, Taylor’s world-building. I also enjoyed some of the side/supporting characters than I did our main couple, Karou and Akiva, who bored me a few times.

I am looking forward to the sequel.

Book Website: http://daughterofsmokeandbone.com/

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Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Summary: Everyone tells Isabel that she is the Shifter – the ancient shape-shifting creature who has protected the kings of Samorna for centuries. They need her to be the Shifter. Prince Rokan risked everything when he rode into the Mistwood to summon her to his side; Ven, the magician’s apprentice, has devoted his life to studying her legend; and even Princess Clarisse, who fears and hates her, depends on Isabel’s powers to further her own plans.

But Isabel doesn’t feel like the Shifter. She feels like a lonely human girl, beset by flashes of memory that do more to confuse than to help her. If she is the Shifter, why can’t she change her shape? Why doesn’t she remember what made her flee the castle so many years ago? As she is drawn deeper into a web of magic and assassination, Isabel will have no choice but to look for answers. But her search will lead her to the one question the Shifter hasn’t faced in a thousand years: where does she come from, and what does she really want?

My Thoughts: Mistwood is one of those books I’ve been hearing about all over the Internet, but haven’t had a chance to pick up myself until now. The summary sounded very intriguing, right up my alley. There were a lot of comparisons to Cashore’s writing (Fire, Graceling) so I was pretty excited to read it.

I thought it started out perfectly–strange, quiet, but full of unanswered questions and potential. The writing was spot-on, nothing wasted. I was immediately drawn into the confusion but also strong intent displayed by our narrator, Isabel. Unfortunately, the rest of the story didn’t really live up to my expectations. I never fully connected with any of the characters aside from our protagonist. I didn’t emphasize with the relationship between her and Rokan, and in all honesty was pretty skeptical that there were any emotions there at all. It became too meandering and unstable for me. I appreciate plot twists and surprises as much as the next reader, but you need something to contrast that with, something stable and understandable.

I finished Mistwood but was a little disappointed. The ending and eventual revelation was worth it–the entire book spun out Isabel’s shadowed and forgotten history, and I liked the way Cypess wrapped it up. However the overall atmosphere didn’t click for me; there wasn’t any lasting impression after I closed the cover. I did like Cypess’ style of writing enough to pick up her newest book, Nightspell, from the library.

Angie has a more positive review here.

Author Website: http://www.leahcypess.com/

This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America’s Most Violent Gang by Samuel Logan

Summary: This is a true story of Brenda Paz’s last three years of life as a member of the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

She was a young member of the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, who became a federal informant before she was killed after running away from witness protection. This book uncovers little known truths about the MS-13, one of America’s most violent street gangs, and reveals how the street life can be alluring to even well loved kids like Brenda.

This narrative also takes a close look at the the realities of living inside the United States as part of a Latino immigrant community, underscoring the challenges with policing these communities and the fluidity of illegal movement across the US-Mexico border.

My Thoughts: I had never heard of the Mara Salvatrucha gang prior to seeing this book in a bookstore when I was in Guatemala. It sounded very interesting so I picked it up from the library when I got home to the States.

With non-fiction books, I usually love them or don’t enjoy them all that much, and I find that it has a lot to do with the writing style and the way the author decides to portray events and characters. While the details and facts about life in MS-13 were certainly eye-opening and interesting, I was not a fan of Logan’s writing style, although the pacing was fine. It was kind of kitschy and overdone at times.

Still, I recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn about the darker side of life in America as an immigrant.

Book Website: http://www.thisisforthemarasalvatrucha.com/

Man Crazy by Joyce Carol Oates

Summary: At five, Ingrid Boone loved her father with all the innocence and blind trust of childhood, believing him when he told her they would fly away in his favorite plane someday. But Ingrid’s young life is shattered when this affectionate, violent man who learned to kill in Vietnam abandons her and her beautiful young mother in the wake of a violent crime.

That is the day an essential truth vanishes from Ingrid’s life. Fleeing to a small mountain community, Ingrid grows up in isolation and learns not to ask questions when her mother takes up with a string of faceless men. Her only solace is the blissful daydream in which she and her father soar through the skies in his plane — an image that will continue to tantalize and torment her.

Desperate to recapture this lost love, hungry for any kind of mercy at a man’s hand, Ingrid allows boys and men to abuse her, searching for affection in the alcohol, drugs, and sex they offer. But it is with Enoch Skaggs, the charismatic leader of a murderous satanic cult, that Ingrid reaches the depths of degradation — and witnesses something she shouldn’t have seen. Yet it is in her blackest moment of despair — when she is marked for death — that Ingrid finds unexpected salvation … and the will to reclaim her life and her heart again

My Thoughts: Terrifying look into the mind of one extremely lost and desperate mind. Another perfectly scary and too-present, too-realistic novel from Oates. Her books always make me anxious and horrified, but I keep reading anyway.

Author Website: http://www.usfca.edu/jco/

The Last Page by Anthony Huso

Summary: The city of Isca is set like a dark jewel in the crown of the Duchy of Stonehold. In this sprawling landscape, the monsters one sees are nothing compared to what’s living in the city’s sewers.

Twenty-three-year-old Caliph Howl is Stonehold’s reluctant High King. Thrust onto the throne, Caliph has inherited Stonehold’s dirtiest court secrets. He also faces a brewing civil war that he is unprepared to fight. After months alone amid a swirl of gossip and political machinations, the sudden reappearance of his old lover, Sena, is a welcome bit of relief. But Sena has her own legacy to claim: she has been trained from birth by the Shradnae witchocracy–adept in espionage and the art of magical equations writ in blood–and she has been sent to spy on the High King.

Yet there are magics that demand a higher price than blood. Sena secretly plots to unlock the Cisrym Ta, an arcane text whose pages contain the power to destroy worlds. The key to opening the book lies in Caliph’s veins, forcing Sena to decide if her obsession for power is greater than her love for Caliph.

Meanwhile, a fleet of airships creeps ever closer to Isca. As the final battle in a devastating civil war looms and the last page of the Cisrym Ta waits to be read, Caliph and Sena must face the deadly consequences of their decisions. And the blood of these conflicts will stain this and other worlds forever.

My Thoughts: I read this back in June. I am about 10 books behind in reviewing.

Enthralling, enchanting, alluring style of writing. Sucks you in, keeps you there, even though sometimes not all the pieces connect, and not everything makes perfect sense. It started out logically, and descended into chaos. I would say obscure, sharp, piercing.

Inconclusive and dark ending.