RTW: Top Five (Okay, Six!) of 2011…

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where the ladies at YA Highway post a weekly writing- or reading-related question for participants to respond to on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

Today’s Topic: What were your top five favorite books of 2011?

Two posts in one day?! That’s right. I couldn’t NOT post about my favorite reads from 2011. That would be, like, a disservice to the reading/writing/book blogging community, right? Oh, and I have SIX favorites because I’m a big ol’ cheater and I just couldn’t leave any of these off my list. Here they are in no particular order, with a link to my original (rave) review after each summary:

Divergent by Veronica RothIn Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her. My thoughts…

Divergent (Divergent, #1)

Where She Went by Gayle FormanIt’s been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever. Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future – and each other. My thoughts, and also here…

Where She Went (If I Stay, #2)

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie PerkinsBudding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit — more sparkly, more fun, more wild — the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood. When Cricket — a gifted inventor — steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door. My thoughts…

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorAround 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…

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #1)

The Scorpio Races by Maggie StiefvaterIt happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen. My thoughts…

The Scorpio Races

Chime by Franny BillingsleyBefore Briony’s stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family’s hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it’s become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment. Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He’s as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she’s extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn’t know. My thoughts…

Chime

*All summaries borrowed from Goodreads.

Tell me… What are your favorite books from 2011?

Fall Book Club: SMOKE AND BONE

I’m incredibly excited about today’s discussion of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a novel by Laini Taylor. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the second book selected for Fall Book Club, brainchild of the lovely Tracey Neithercott. (If you’re interested in checking out my take on last month’s selection, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, you can read it HERE.)

From Goodreads: 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?

*Disclaimer: I’m going to do my best to discuss this book without revealing any major plot elements. I do mention small specifics here and there, though nothing that will spoil your reading experience. That said, if you haven’t read Smoke and Bone and prefer to go into books with a completely fresh perspective, proceed with caution…

So. I’m sort of at a loss as to what to say about Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Simply, I loved it. A few weeks ago I blogged about the Elusive Perfect Novel. Smoke and Bone is a combination of everything I included on the list of qualities MY perfect book must possess, plus an unidentifiable and unmatched sort of magic that’s hard to put into words. Very few books seduce me and capture me entirely, then gut me and leave me desperate for more. Daughter of Smoke and Bone did.

In a Twitter conversation with Tracey and Jaime Morrow last week, shortly after I’d finished reading, I tweeted this profound nugget: I’m trying to figure out how to write a coherent review. Can I just say: ENVIABLY BRILLIANT and call it a day? Because that pretty much covers it. And when I say “enviably brilliant,” I mean in a literal sense. I want to utilize language as beautifully (and seemingly effortlessly) as Laini Taylor does. I want to build a world as unique and dreamy and terrifying. I want to craft a plot that enraptures readers as Smoke and Bone enraptured me.

I should point out that if I had picked up Smoke and Bone in a bookstore and read the cover blurb, I probably would have put it back down. Fantasy, in general, is not my thing. Luckily, though, I’ve got my brilliant book friends and the YA community to fall back on for recommendations, and I knew better than to pass this one up based on genre alone. Even if you’re someone who’s resistant to fantasy (like me!), I suspect you’ll love Smoke and Bone. The fantastical elements, while certainly strong, are expertly executed and, for the most part, grounded in reality. They’re stated so clearly–of course there are otherworldly portals spread around Earth’s greatest cities; of course wishes come in denominations and at a price–you can’t help but jump feet first into the world Laini Taylor has created.

Let’s discuss main character, Karou… Words I’d use to describe our heroine: Fun, feisty, loyal, artistic, courageous, autonomous, lithe, talented and at times, funny. She’s everything I want out of a (female) protagonist, and additionally, everything I want in a friend. Plus, hello, her hair is azure. How cool! But poor Karou… as outwardly perfect as she may seem, she’s battling some major… um, demons. Her past is riddled with secrets and there’s just something missing from her life. I felt deeply for Karou, because her confusion and her pain felt genuine, just as genuine as she felt, and I was rooting for her up until the final page.

It’s hard to discuss the plot of Daughter of Smoke and Bone without giving its secrets away. I’m not going to go too far into the heart of the story, but I will say that there’s an element of “soulmate-ishness” at work. Usually, soulmate-ishness (yes, that’s totally a word) is cause for eye-rolling on my part. It often feels too easy, like a cop-out some authors use to get right into a romance without putting in the time and necessary back story. That was NOT the case here. The soulmate-ishness in Smoke and Bone made absolute sense, was explained thoroughly, and was necessary to the plot. It also raised the stakes considerably. The forbidden love, the impossible decisions, irrevocable actions, they made my heart hurt in the very best of ways.

While I’ve alluded to the awesomeness of Laini Taylor’s prose, I feel it warrants greater commentary. Smoke and Bone is told in third person, which is not my preferred POV. Here it works perfectly, though, giving enough distance to truly share the novel’s vast world, yet lending a sense of intimacy that lets us really know Karou. And the writing is just SO gorgeous; after the first few pages, I didn’t even notice the POV. The language is clever, thought-provoking, visceral, and full of voice–beautiful, but never, ever showy. I found myself reading sentences over and over, first to savor them, then to analyze what it was that I loved so much about their construction.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they “flew through” Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I did not. I spent a week with it, and purposely. I read slowly, enjoying every word, every twist, every revelation. And oh, the revelations are SO worth the ride. I read the last quarter of this book with my jaw on the floor, my heart literally pounding. So… if you’ve yet to pick up Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I highly, HIGHLY recommend you do. It’s among the best books I’ve read. Ever.

Oh, and these pictures BEG to be shared:

Though I bought the hard copy of Smoke and Bone (with the blue mask, pictured above) I was lucky enough to win this ARC from Kiersten White. Isn’t the cover image lovely?

And–holy crap!–it’s signed! This ARC might just be one of the rare material possessions I’d save in a house fire.

So… have you read The Daughter of Smoke and Bone? Were you as enchanted as I was? And don’t forget to drop by Tracey’s blog for links to today’s other Smoke and Bone posts!