Lips Touch: Three Times, by Laini Taylor
Let me just start by saying, the maxim "don't judge a book by its cover" was coined for this one. I wanted to read Lips Touch because I wanted to read Laini Taylor (I enjoy her blog immensely). I went for Lips Touch, let's be honest, I hesitated a little based on the pouty, red-lipped vixen on the cover. I'm still not even sure who it's supposed to be, and it's a tad too romancey for my taste. Fortunately, the Amazon preview started with the first chapter and not the little intro, and these were the first words I read (I'm not sure if "There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave," would have caught me in quite the same way):
Kizzy's family lived in the weird house outside of town with all the anvils in the yard and the tick-ridden billy goat that rammed the fenced whenever anyone walked past.
And I was hooked. I fell in love with that crazy billy goat, man. I read the rest of the preview (which may have been the first three pages- not enough for me to realize what it was even about), and wanted to read more. When my copy came in the mail, I slipped off the pouty-lipped dust jacket and haven't picked it up since. Because the art on the inside is plain magical. The first images I saw made me squeal: Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market remains my favorite of all the poems I've studied. I thought to myself several times, looking at the opening illustrations, "How did she know?" As if it had occurred to Laini Taylor one day, "Hey, this is Julie's favorite poem, I should write a short story about it." I get this way about what I read/see sometimes, harboring secret convictions that it was made just for me.
You know how sometimes a particular film/book/experience reaches you in a certain way based on the film/book/experience that came right before it? For example, two of my favorite plays to be a part of in college were JB and The Hiding Place, because they followed the grueling hard work of Spitfire Grill and Arsenic and Old Lace, respectively, BOTH of which featured my playing an old lady (blech). In JB and The Hiding Place, though the work was still hard, I relished in my smaller roles and was able to enjoy the camaraderie of the whole thing a lot more. This book was like that. It's my most recent read in a long, long line of grueling hard work: Going Bovine, which made me feel like I'd gone bonkers and then depressed me horribly, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, wherein very few stories actually felt as though they had come to an end before the author just quit writing them, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was beautifully done, but heartbreakingly lacking in the story department, Toby Alone and Toby and the Secrets of the Tree, which left me vaguely happy, because happy endings do that-- until I'd thought about it for a few days, and now I wonder, really?
On my birthday, I started reading Lips Touch, and relished in my smaller role. It was fun. I was able to kick back and enjoy the camaraderie. There was no terminal illness (or freaking insanity) to deal with, no unfinished ideas that made me feel stupid, no questionable or unbelievable motivations, no confusion over which character I was supposed to be following (there was a twist in this area in the third story, Hatchling, but I loved it)... I didn't really get mad at the writing, or the illustrations, though I remain a tad peeved over the cover, mostly since it does not fit the rest of the book. Sort of like a strange costuming choice that makes the audience cock their heads to the side in unison when it appears, and later whisper, "I don't know what all that was about. But didn't you love it when--"
Okay. I'm not going to mention the cover art anymore.
Let's talk about the stories.
The opening story, Goblin Fruit, is a direct descendant of Rossetti's Goblin Market, as earlier implied. It follows the "but what happened next" path, though it skips a couple of generations. I really like the name Kizzy. I like that it's related to Lizzie, the name of the girl in Rossetti's original. And I like that she's just far enough removed from her grandmother's story to not really care when it comes down to it. And without giving too much away, I love the final illustration (not the one pictured here, a different one). At first I skimmed over it, thinking, "Oh, the grandmother," but when I looked back earlier today, I think I figured it out. Is that not Kizzy herself? I kind of hope so. And, wow.
The synopsis of the book states that all three of these stories hinge on a first kiss, but I would argue that this first story is the only one that really does. They all involve first kisses, but this is the only one where anything actually hinges on it. And I like that.
The middle story, Spicy Little Curses Such As These, was much stronger than the first (which is saying a lot, because the first was pretty dang good), and featured one of the most fascinating characters I've ever encountered: Anamique, whose voice will kill anyone who hears it and has successfully remained silent for 18 years. And as wacky as that sounds, the beauty of this woman's writing is that you actually believe it.
The final story, Hatchling, takes up the whole second half of the book, and it was my favorite. I had no stinking clue what was going on for the longest time, but once it started coming together, man, it took my breath away. I loved so many specific things, but I'll let you read it if you want, so you can enjoy all the sweet morsels as they come. I especially loved (as alluded to above) the multiple points of view. At first, you might pinpoint Esme as the main girl, the one to follow, until you learn about her mother, Mab, or meet Mihai, who tastes like a river. It's his story you're really following, in which Esme only plays a part. It's pretty awesome, guys, whether you like fantasy or not. I will say that parts of this story were a tad too mature for younger readers, but all was handled with such great taste that I didn't even realize how disturbed I should have been until later. And yes, that's a good thing.
I have to be honest, as much as I love the Market, Goblin Fruit was probably my least favorite story of Lips Touch. I even contemplated taking the whole thing to McKay's, very early on, not because I didn't like it, but because I thought it would be nothing more than a fun read. Wrong-o. The rest of the book turned me all the way around. It wasn't just a fun read, it was a quality read. Sorry, McKay's. I mean, McKay. You can have half the books I mentioned earlier, but I'm keeping Lips Touch.
*all illustrations (minus the cover of St. Lucy's) by Jim Di Bartolo.