Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review of Lips Touch: Three Times

Lips Touch: Three Times
by Laini Taylor
272pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.23/5

Lips Touch: Three Times is the newest book by Laini Taylor, author of Blackbringer and Silksinger from her Dreamdark series. Like her other two novels, Lips Touch: Three Times is a YA book, although it is darker and seems to be aimed at an older audience than the Dreamdark books (not that the Dreamdark series is not perfectly enjoyable to read as an adult but more parents would feel comfortable giving younger children the Dreamdark books than they would Lips Touch: Three Times). Lips Touch: Three Times was recently nominated for the National Book Awards in the Young People's Literature category.

This book is actually a collection of three novellas, each involving a story of dangerous love. It contains beautiful illustrations by Taylor's husband, Jim di Bartolo, who also does all of her gorgeous book covers. I felt the artwork added a lot to each tale. There were several pictures at the beginning of each novella, and after reading it, I'd always flip back to the art at the beginning and see how each set of art seemed to tell a piece of the story.

Each novella was better than the one preceding it, which is especially good because I was rather disappointed in the first one. However, the next two were both exactly to my taste (they were also darker than the first).

Goblin Fruit

The first novella was the one I thought was the weakest, but it was also by far the shortest since it took up about 1/5 of the entire book. "Goblin Fruit" stems from the author's love for Christina Rosetti's poem "Goblin Market." All of her life, sixteen-year-old Kizzy has been warned about the goblins by her grandmother since her aunt was taken to their land in which she ate of their fruit. Kizzy has always wished to be someone else, which makes her the perfect target for goblins. For the goblins do not seek to ensnare the popular, beautiful girls but prefer the ones who yearn to be so much more than what they are.

The main reason this story did not appeal to me as much as the others is that there was quite a bit of teenage drama - a group of girls hanging out discussing the boys and the other girls. Personally, I'm not at all a fan of reading about what seems like rather shallow, high school conversations about who's hot or popular. It also contains one of those relationships where the new boy at school likes the plain, unpopular girl (Kizzy) and that storyline doesn't tend to do much for me, either.

While I did not like most of the story, there were two parts of it that I appreciated. The first of these was the details about Kizzy's weird family who believed in ghosts and, obviously, goblins. The second and better of the two was the writing, which was beautiful as always and also really managed to capture that feeling of wanting so badly to be more than what you are - dreaming of being able to do anything and everything. This was one of my favorite descriptions of Kizzy's longing:
Kizzy wanted to be a woman who could dive off the prow of a sailboat into the sea, who would fall back in a tangle of sheets, laughing, and who could dance a tango, lazily stroke a leopard with her bare foot, freeze an enemy's blood with her eyes, make promises she couldn't possibly keep, and then shift the world to keep them. She wanted to write memoirs and autograph them at a tiny bookshop in Rome, with a line of admirers snaking down a pink-lit alley. She wanted to make love on a balcony, ruin someone, trade in esoteric knowledge, watch strangers as coolly as a cat. She wanted to be inscrutable, have a drink named after her, a love song written for her, and a handsome adventurer's small airplane, champagne-christened Kizzy, which would vanish one day in a windstorm in Arabia so that she would have to mount a rescue operation involving camels, and wear an indigo veil against the stinging sand, just like the nomads.

Kizzy wanted. (pp. 41)
On merit of the actual story, I'd give "Goblin Fruit" a 4/10 but due to the fabulous writing and descriptions, it gets an extra point.


Spicy Little Curses Such As These

"Spicy Little Curses Such as These" begins in Hell with the meeting between a demon and an ambassador to Hell, a woman known as "the old bitch." The demon despises children, and it is Ambassador Estella's job to save as many of the children that the demon kills as she can. In return for their lives, the ambassador must sacrifice people, murderers or other criminals. On this particular day, the demon offers her all ten of the children he just had killed in an earthquake for free. As usual, "free" is too good to be true and comes with a price: the young ones will be saved if the ambassador will curse a baby girl with the most beautiful voice ever heard. The catch? Anyone who hears her utter a sound will drop dead. Estella is horrified but feels she has no choice but to allow the baby to be cursed since it will save ten innocent lives. So she places the curse on the newborn as required but adds an addendum of her own - that the child will not make a sound until she is old enough to understand what she does.

This tale of the curse and the young woman in India who must live with it is exactly my type of story and I loved every moment of it. Like the previous story, it is beautifully written but it is also excellent storytelling in addition to the prose. It was dark with some supernatural intervention and tough decisions, plus it had some wonderful arguments about superstition as the cursed girl wrestled with whether or not her belief was based on fabrication. If I had one complaint, it would be that the ending was wrapped up too neatly, although it is also not quite as happy as it could have been.



"Hatchling" was the longest, darkest, most fleshed out story and my favorite of the three. Only a few days before Esme's fourteenth birthday, she awakens to discover her eyes are no longer both brown but one is blue. In addition to this strange occurrence, Esme finds she also remembers events that did not happen to her and comes to the very creepy realization that:
These weren't her memories. This wasn't her eye. (pp. 146)
The first thought Esme has is to show her mother, who becomes completely freaked out and flees her home with her daughter. It's obvious that this is somehow connected to her mysterious past, although she does not know what is happening.

As you read more, Esme's mother's tale is revealed and eventually the rest of what is going on is made clear. This is one of those instances that in spite of how much I want to talk about it, I don't want to give away what happens. So I will just say that what happened to Esme's mother as a child is rather disturbing and the reason I loved "Hatchling" so much was this darkness, the way information slowly became available the more I read, and the fact that it had the most developed world mythology.


Lips Touch: Three Times is difficult to rate overall since it contained one story that I was not crazy about as well as two that were some of the very best of everything I have read this year. Since the two novellas I loved so much were about 80% of the book and I did enjoy them so thoroughly, I'm going to weigh them far more than the shorter, weaker novella.


Where I got my reading copy: I bought it (because I very much enjoyed the two books by Laini Taylor that I received as review copies).


orannia said...

Ohhhh, great review Kristen. That excerpt was...WOW! I really need to read Blackbringer ASAP!

Kailana said...

I really want to read this. I need to get my library to buy it!

suzie townsend said...

Great review. The only thing that bothered me about Lips Touch is that I kept thinking that I wanted more. I felt like they were over too soon!

Kristen said...

Orannia - Wasn't that excerpt amazing? There were a lot of really wonderful pieces of writing in this book, although that was one of my favorites (in spite of the fact that it was from my least favorite story). The intro to each tale was very lovely too.

Blackbringer was good but this one was better - you should see if your library has Lips Touch. ;)

Kailana - Good luck with getting your library to buy it! It is a wonderful book.

Suzie - Thank you! I would really like to see more set in the world in either "Spicy Little Curses Such as These" or "Hatchling." Especially "Hatchling" since it seems as though there is a lot more that could be said about that world.

orannia said...

I'll see if my library has it :)

Kristen said...

Orannia - Hope your library has it. I want to know what you think. :)

Anastasia said...

I read the 1st and the 3rd story today and - wow! Like that excerpt you quoted, some fantastic descriptions. I think you were too harsh on the 1st story; I didn't like the abrupt ending and I thought it was entire unfair the way Kizzy was tempted, but I could very much identify with the wanting.

And Hatchling needs to be a very long novel, with multiple POV's. So much deliciousness there! It also resonated with several other books i read (I actually like it when that happens) - Carol Berg's Rai-Kirah trilogy, Daryl Gregory's Pandemonium, Vinge's Snow Queen - all of which expanded on a portion of what the novella touched upon, and provided a stronger emotional context for me. But I would love to see Laini Taylor do that herself. I think had I not read the other books, I would be even less satisfied.

The book itself was gorgeous too. The illustration were fantastic - to be enjoyed after reading the stories. I'll save the middle story for next week.

Laini Taylor has a lot of talent, and I want to see something really ambitious from her next.

Kristen said...

Anastasia - Glad to hear you're enjoying Lips Touch so far! I think you are right that I was too hard on the first story - like I said in my review, I did think it was beautifully written, especially the way Laini Taylor captured that feeling of longing. That part was very easy to identify with for me as well. It's just that personally I really don't like teenage angsty romance type stories so I found those parts of it unappealing. And then in comparison to the other two stories... I actually liked it better before I read the other two, especially the last one which very well might be my favorite individual story I read in all of 2009.

Hatchling was amazing and I was also thinking I'd like to see it expanded into a novel with multiple points of view when I read it. Or I'd be happy with a full length novel that took place in that setting.

It is a gorgeous book. After reading each story, I had to go back and look at all the illustrations for it.

I'm not sure what Laini Taylor is working on now. I've seen her mention writing but not what exactly, although I'd guess it's the next Dreamdark book. Like you, I keep hoping for a Hatchling novel, though.