Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Lips Touch: Three Times

Title: Lips Touch: Three Times
Author: Laini Taylor
Published: October, 2009
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
What makes a reader feel more virtuous than the successful completion of a book of short stories?  Short stories seem to be going the way of poetry.  Published collections are becoming rare and are considered more of an art form than the widely-consumed, commercial novel.  Perhaps only the completion of a book of poetry would make a reader feel more superior.

Laini Taylor, a current YA superstar, is definitely interested in writing as an art form. I would actually be really willing to read a collection of poetry by Laini Taylor. (Not the loose verse that is called poetry these days, but real, crafted poems, with meter, and intentionality in each syllable. I think Taylor would be up for the task.) But, for now, her short stories will do.

Lips Touch: Three Times is comprised of — surprise — three short stories, each featuring a first kiss as part of the plot.  Sounds romantic, yes?  Of course, with Laini Taylor, it's not so simple.  These are stories touched with the supernatural, populated with monsters and demons.

The stories are: Goblin Fruit, Spicy Little Curses Such As These, and Hatchling.

Goblin Fruit takes place in contemporary times, but features the world as we know it filled with parasitic and predatory supernatural beings.  An adolescent girl, Kizzy, is aching for her romantic/sexual life to begin, and knowingly lets herself fall prey to a goblin, who is in the guise of a handsome young man, who wants to consume Kizzy's soul.  There isn't exactly a happy ending, but the point of reading is to enjoy the artistry of the Taylor's language.  I read a few lines that appealed to me out loud to my dad, and he shook his head and said the writer was trying too hard.  Yes, I suppose for less receptive readers, Taylor's language can veer into purple prose territory, but I enjoyed her loaded sentences.  An overarching theme in these stories is burgeoning sexuality, and the motif of ripe fruit is used frequently to suggest this sexual awakening.  Likewise, Taylor's sentences are fat, ripe, low-hanging strings of words that are so packed with similes and sensory description, that they, too, resemble juicy pieces of fruit.

Spicy Little Curses Such As These was my favorite of the three stories and the most well-written.  The setting, imperial India, was rich and vivid. It is the only story set in historical times, and Taylor evoked the time period effectively.  In short, the story follows the circumstances that led to a young girl being cursed with a lethal voice. She questions, her entire life, if the curse is real, but ultimately decides to break her silence when she falls in love with a young soldier. For a short story, the characters were remarkably well-drawn. Estella, "the old bitch", was a joy to read. She is introduced to us with this line, paraphrased: "Her expression shot down laughter like game birds." Estella could have a whole book devoted to her character; she never ceases to be humorous, surprising, and touching. But Estella is not the only character to shine in Spicy Little Curses. Her nemesis, Vasudev, was a spicy old goat, evoking the crafty demons of Richelle Mead's Georgina Kincaid series.  James Dorsey and Anamique were the epitome of moony lovers. Pranjivan was a standout, despite his minor role. He, too, could inspire an entire book.  I finished this story wanting more from these characters, but feeling satisfied with how it ended.

In a game of Which One Is not Like the Others, Hatchling is the odd one out.  Not only is the final story much longer than the others, it is also less stream-lined and more convoluted.  The weird mythology that Taylor doesn't bother to explain or defend in Goblin Fruit and Spicy Little Curses is poured over at length in Hatchling, to the story's detriment.  Hatchling begins with a young girl, Esme, waking up one morning to discover that one of her brown eyes has turned a creepy, pale blue.  She shows her mother, Mab, who reacts with utter horror, yelling in a strange language.  Mab slaps an eyepatch on her daughter, whips together some disguises, and flees with Esme.  If the name "Mab" means anything to you, you might realize where this story is headed.  However, it wound up to be an unpredictable, rambling story that skips PG-13 at times and goes straight to Oh-My-God-It-Just-Went-There.  Hatchling wasn't a bad, or ill-written read by any means, however.  It merely felt out of place with the other two stories, in a disproportionate manner.

Overall, I'm very pleased that I finished Lips Touch: Three Times.  Yes, it is a collection of short stories, which makes me feel accomplished for having read them.  But also, this book is routinely checked out of my library.  The copy is positively battered.  I've read reviews that gush over this collection.  Laini Taylor is a huge up-and-coming YA author with an outrageous imagination and a lush, unusual style.  I felt like I was missing out in not having read this book, and you know what?  If you haven't read Lips Touch: Three Times, you're missing out, too.

No comments: