Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Raven Boys

by Maggie Stiefvater
Read: September 18-20, 2012
Published: September 18, 2012 by Scholastic Press
Source: Purchase (also signed by author!)
Category: YA
Series: The Raven Cycle, Book 1

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. (This is only part of the description. It's long. If you want more, go HERE)

I have a secret to tell you. Sometimes, I think that Maggie Stiefvater writes her books just for me. She crafts her stories exactly how I want an author to write them - slowly building characters, revealing them from different angles and perspectives. Her stories are complexly layered, and feel like a puzzle that the reader gets to put together piece by piece. I LOVE reading books written this way. 

Take Gansey for instance, we meet him first as a spirit through Blue's eyes in the graveyard, but then we get his own perspective, see him described by Adam, and again by Blue when she meets him in person. Every detail we read about him - from his Topsiders to his preference for organic applesauce to the name of his car - adds a layer of complexity. 

We see not only Gansey this way, but all of the characters in book. And sometimes the reader doesn't know they've gotten a piece of the puzzle until later. When it clicks into place, it's a triumphant feeling. Ms. Stiefvater excels at this method of writing.  

The Story: 
The plot of The Raven Boys is complex to break down and best to go into without much information. But basically, Blue's been told all her life that "If she were to kiss her true love, he would die." Then in a graveyard one night she meets the spirit of Gansey, a wealthy boy who goes to a local private school. Seeing him there means that 1) He's going to die within the next year, and 2) He's either her true love or she kills him. Soon after that night, Blue meets the real Gansey and his three friends. She is drawn into their lives - and they into hers. Together they embark on a mysterious quest that combines ley lines and Welsh kings (among other things).

If that doesn't sound exciting, The Raven Boys also features helicopters, guns and fast cars. As well as many surprising revelations that had me picking my jaw off the floor.

The Setting:
The simple answer is that The Raven Boys is set in present day in Henrietta, Virginia. But there is a certain timelessness and otherworldliness to the story despite the fact that they carry cell phones. I'm not sure I can articulate how Ms. Stiefvater achieves this (except to say that she does something similar in The Scorpio Races, though that is a historical setting), but I think it added to the mystery and mood of the book, and I really loved the feel of it. 

The Characters:
(Part of the fun is discovering them for yourself, but I will give you a small glimpse of the main players)

Residents of 300 Fox Way:
Blue has made it her mission in life to avoid the private school boys and to never fall in love.
Maura, Neeve, Calla, Persephone and Orla, are Blue's mother and family respectively (some related, some not). They're all psychics, but that's where the similarities between these women end. 

The Aglionby (Raven)Boys: 
Gansey is the determined leader. 
Adam wants to make something better for himself.
Ronan is more than just a bad boy.
Noah watches from the periphery.

One of the best parts about The Raven Boys is the friendship between the four boys. I loved watching them interact with, and care for, each other. It gets even better when Blue meets them and starts to become part of their world. Blue's eccentric family is pretty awesome as well. I love that EVERY single character in this book is uniquely and richly drawn. 

The Pacing: 
The first half of The Raven Boys was a bit slow as we got to know the setting and the players, and also because some pieces of the story feel disjointed. But the second half really picked up with surprising revelations and much more action. If you haven't made it to the halfway point and are feeling discouraged, I encourage you to keep reading! I promise that the pieces will fit together.  

It's important to remember that this book is the first of a four part cycle. Not everything is resolved, and we meet a lot of characters. It takes time to find out who they are and why they're all here. But that is part of the magic of Maggie Stiefvater's writing for me. I'm excited to see where this story goes. I have a feeling the next one will read much faster.

The Love Story: 
The Raven Boys is the beginning of the cycle, and the book is very much about characters meeting and getting to know each other (don't worry there are some sweet moments and peeks at a deeper romance to come). A few crushes develop, but as Maggie Stiefvater herself said, the romance so far is fairly "amorphous." I was actually really pleased that the love story develops slowly, especially because it is part of a four book series and constrained by the fact that Blue can't kiss anyone (or they'll likely die). 

I will admit that when I started the book, I assumed that the identity of Blue's true love was a given. But as I read the story, I discovered that it wasn't actually immediately clear. Even so, by the end of this first cycle I'm certain enough of his identity that Ms. Stiefvater would need to work hard to dissuade me (she's quite capable of this). However, that doesn't mean that the characters themselves are as convinced as I am.  

The Cliffy:
When The Raven Boys endsthe players are not in mortal danger or in the middle of a major action sequence, therefore I wouldn't call it a true cliffhanger. The action for this story wraps itself up, and the characters are all in a safe place (for now). However, not all the plot-lines that have been introduced are resolved. Also, there are a few revelations at the very end of this book that bring up new questions, and set the reader up for what is to come.  Basically, the ending made me excited to get my hands on the next book, but not stressed about the current state of the characters and the story. 

Love Triangle Factor: It's complicated - not enough information yet. 
Rating: 5 stars

To read about my fantastic evening meeting Maggie Stiefvater at the Cambridge Public Library, go HERE

Beautiful Library + Fantastic Author = Magical Evening

Last Thursday, was a good day for me. 1) I got to meet Maggie Stiefvater and discover that she's just as great a storyteller in person as she is in print. 2) I was able to visit the lovely Cambridge Public Library. 

First the location. Below are a few photos of the newest construction of the Cambridge Public Library. It is filled with light and color - and books of course! I wish I'd been able to spend more time exploring the space itself, but I hope to go back someday soon for a visit. 

I didn't ask, but I'm assuming that the library has some pretty powerful UV protection in those windows, because books and extreme light are a bad combo. But it is a gorgeous space. 

This is the media collection - movies and cd's.

The Teen Room where Maggie Stiefvater held her talk. The library combines old and new construction, a feature that I LOVE, and this room is located in the older section. I didn't get any other pictures of this part of the library, but it just as beautiful. Also of note, those lights on the wall change color, so it was pretty much like we were in a club - with BOOKS!  

Here I am with my friends April and Jen, all Maggie Stiefvater fans. We got to the event early enough to sit in the front row. I felt like an overeager student.

The author herself, holding one of Gansey's Topsiders, which are a copyrighted brand and must be capitalized. Here she was talking about all the little research details that go into writing a novel, as well as how she built her characters.

Some of the things Ms. Stiefvater talked about (I'm sure this isn't all new information):
  1. She doesn't like to hug.
  2. She knows how The Raven Boys Cycle is going to end and certain plot points along the way, but allows for flexibility in how to get there. 
  3. She likes almost all paranormal creatures except for vampires.
  4. She was a full time portrait artist before becoming an author, and that has greatly influenced her writing. She said it's because when you're an artist you seek to capture a person's likeness in a way that only you can paint it, so even though it looks like the subject it also looks like you made it (she gave John Singer Sargent as an example of this). Ms. Stiefvater seeks to write books this way.
  5. Cole St. Clair is her favorite character. But she advised us not to try to date him.
  6. Ley lines are a real thing, and there is actually one that goes from Wales to Virginia. 
  7. She wants everyone to know that she picked the name Blue BEFORE Beyoncé had her daughter. 
  8. One YA novel she wishes was published when she was a teen is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (I'd agree with this!).

Ms. Steifvater excels at public speaking along with every thing else. She was both engaging and hilarious. It felt pretty magical to listen to her talk as the sky darkened and evening came.

Ms. Stiefvater signed and drew pictures in everyone's books. I'm not sure what was up with the red tule, except to keep the visitors from picking up library books. But this is one well stocked teen room. They had at least 5 copies of The Diviners by Libba Bray sitting on the shelf, and the book has just been released (plus a bazillion of The Hunger Games). 

My most triumphant moment at the event came just before this picture was taken. After reading The Scorpio Races, my friend April and I were both convinced that two of the side characters in the story were having an affair, although there's nothing directly said about it. When we got to the signing table, we asked Ms. Stiefvater whether we were right, and she told us that YES it had been part of the plot but her publisher made her take it out. However, there are still some clues about that plot-line in the book. I LOVE getting little details like that from authors. (Can YOU guess what characters I'm talking about?)

For my glowing review of The Raven Boys, go HERE.

Thanks to Maggie Stiefvater and the Cambridge Public Library for a wonderful evening!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top Ten Series I Haven't Finished

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish

I'm actually pretty neurotic about finishing series once I've started them. Traditionally, I tend to read them straight through, because I like to keep the momentum of the story going. However, recently I've been spacing them out more, which always makes me nervous because I'm afraid I'll never get through them all, especially if there are lots of books already released. 

I am actually in the middle of 25+ series, but most of them are ones that haven't released all the books - so they don't count for these purposes. Because I don't have a lot of unfinished series to list, I also wanted to list some of the (mostly) completed series that I would like to start. 

Series I haven't finished but plan to complete: 

1) Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - I read the first book this summer as part of an awesome read-along but it was extremely long and emotional, so I just couldn't handle going right into the next one. I plan to keep reading, but there are so many books released already in the series and they just get longer and longer, which has me quite overwhelmed!

2) Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness - HOLD ON Todd and Viola, I'm coming back to you! I've read The Knife of Never Letting Go and hope to finish this series this fall. 

3) Uglies by Scott Westerfield - This is an example of a series where I read the first book and just haven't made it back to read the next two. Also, I really didn't care for the heroine in Uglies, though I've been told I will like her more in Pretties. I hope to finish these soon. 

Series I haven't finished because I just couldn't keep going:

4) Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) by Stieg Larsson - I will admit to being very hooked on the first story. But did not care for the main character's caviler attitude about relationships, and the level of sexual violence portrayed completely freaked me out, so I couldn't read the next two.

5) Nightshade by Andrea Creamer - This is a love triangle that I could not stand. All I remember about the first book in the trilogy is the main character making out with a different guy in each chapter. It made my head spin. However, I will admit to being interested in who Calla picked, and then going on line to find out what happened in the last book. I don't feel bad for doing this, or for not finishing the series. (Don't judge!)

6) Hush Hush trilogy by Becca Fitzpatrick - I read the first book and really didn't care for the heroine - or Patch for that matter (sorry!). Maybe I'll pick it up again one day and finish the series.

(Mostly)* completed series I haven't started, but want to:

7) Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl - The movie is coming soon! Hopefully I can get to this series before it comes out and all the library copies of this book get checked out. 

8) Soul Screamers by Rachel Vincent - This one has been on my radar for a while now, but the series keeps getting longer and longer and I don't have time to commit to it all now.

9) River of Time by Lisa Tawn Bergren - Several bookish friends have told me how great these books are (and how swoonworthy the guys!). 

10) The Queen's Thief by Megan Whalen Turner - I'm a bit embarrassed that I haven't read this one, but I plan to remedy that soon. 

What series have you not finished? 
What other series should I be reading?

* I picked series where there are at least 3 books released. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Knife of Never Letting Go

by Patrick Ness
Read: September 2-4, 2012
Published: May 5th 2008 by Walker
Source: Library book
Category: YA - sci/fi, dystopian 
Series: Book 1 in the Chaos Walking trilogy

Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee -- whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not -- stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden -- a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

I read The Knife of Never Letting Go (hereafter shortened to The Knife) along with my friend Asheley @ Into the Hall of Books. It was her second time through the book, and we emailed back and forth quite a bit while reading it (she LOVES this series). I think my experience with this story was even BETTER, because I was able to talk about it while I was going through it. Thank you, Asheley! 

The setting:
Old World aka Earth, has been decimated, so humans have sought a new place to live, creating a New World on a different planet. New World has similar features to earth, but it is green and habitable, which earth is no longer. The colonizers soon discovered that on this new planet, you can hear everything that everyone around you is thinking, and they can hear you too. Called Noise, the constant inner thoughts of man  create a cacophony of sound that never ends. Even animals can be heard. There is one major exception to this, a Quiet amidst the Noise. But you have to read the book to find out what it is. 

The set up:
Todd has lived his whole life in Prentisstown on New World. The Noise is all he knows. He is one month away from turning 13 and becoming a man (they have 13 months in New World, which means in our world he'd already be 14) when he finds something out that changes everything. Suddenly, Todd has to reevaluate everything he knows - while running for his life. 

The characters:
The Knife is told through the eyes of Todd Hewitt. A boy who has lived his entire life hearing everyone's thoughts around him. Therefore, he is pretty shocked to find out that he's been lied to his entire life. I really fell in love with Todd throughout the story. One of my favorite parts of this book was watching his journey, and the ways that he grew through it. Todd makes mistakes, and there were times that I wanted to scream at him to STOP IT or TELL SOMEONE. But I tried not to let my adult perspective crowd out Todd's. I think his behavior made sense for who he was, and I sympathized with him, even when he made Very Bad Decisions. 

Todd encounters Viola on his journey. As Todd has no experience with girls at all, he is amazed at how different she is from him. It is also fun to watch them learn to interact with each other.  I love the relationship that Todd and Viola develop as they travel together. It is not romantic (yet). But there is a depth to it because of shared purpose and experiences. She is his first honest peer relationship, and the added complication of her being a different gender makes everything more interesting. 

Manchee - Todd's talking dog. Not just for comic relief (although he does provide that as well), Manchee is integral to the story. I grew very attached to him.

Bad People - There are a lot of them, and some just Would.Not.Go.Away! 

Helpful People - Thankfully, Todd encounters some of those as well. Two of my favorites were Hildy and Wilf.

The writing:
I LOVE how The Knife is written. The book spells words like Todd speaks them, which is to say not always correctly. This makes his character and the world where he lives stand out as unique (in a good way!). The book is written through Todd's eyes and one thing I love about it is how well Patrick Ness captures the way that Todd sees the world. Mr. Ness accomplishes this is in the rhythm of how Todd speaks, and in all the ways Todd describes the world around him. It is BEAUTIFUL. I can't tell you how many gorgeous quotes are in this book. 

The quote below comes from the beginning where Todd is describing the mysterious Quiet. When I read this paragraph, I fell in love with the writing in the book. 
It's like a shape you can't see except by how everything else around it is touching it. Like water in the shape of a cup, but with no cup. It's a hole and everything that falls into it stops being Noise, stops being anything, just stops all together. It's not like the quiet of the swamp, which is never quiet obviously, just less Noisy. But this, this is a shape, a shape of nothing, a hole where all noise stops. 
Some more on Todd:
Besides the writing, Todd  - and the way he grows - is what made this story great for me. From what he knows at the beginning to the people he meets and the information that he discovers along his journey, Todd changes in big ways. He faces terrible situations and makes bad decisions. But he remains honest and true to himself. I love Todd's honesty. The way he faces his mistakes head on. The way he rages at himself. The raw emotion within him. I love that he is young. As the story progresses, he looses what innocence he had, but he still remains fundamentally the same person. I am really looking forward to following his progress through the next books. 

I noticed some parallels with - and critique on the idea of colonization. I'm interested to see how/if this plays out through out the second and third novels. There are others, but it's hard to articulate them without spoilers.

The Cliffy:
The Knife is definitely written to be part of a series and it ends at a cliffhanger that is OFF THE CHARTS. It is pretty much a ten on the cliffhanger scale. Thankfully, book two and three are released already.  

Love Triangle Factor: N/A
Rating: 4.5 stars

Friday, September 21, 2012


by Talia Vance
Read: September 16-17, 2012
Published: September 8, 2012 by Flux
Source: Library book
Category: Mature YA/New Adult - Paranormal Romance
Series: Bandia book 1

Brianna has always felt invisible. People stare right past her, including the one boy she can't resist, Blake Williams. But everything changes at a house party where Brianna's charm bracelet slips off and time stands still. In that one frozen, silver moment, Blake not only sees her, he recognizes something deep inside her she's been hiding even from herself.

Discovering she is descended from Danu, the legendary Bandia of Celtic myth, Brianna finds herself questioning the truth of who she is. And when she accidentally binds her soul to Blake, their mutual attraction becomes undeniable.

But Blake has his own secret, one that could prove deadly for them both.

Bound together by forbidden magic, Brianna and Blake find themselves at the heart of an ancient feud that threatens to destroy their lives and their love.

Silver is about a girl named Brianna that has been invisible her entire life. She can't figure out why no boy ever notices her, and that makes her come to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with her. Maybe she's missing pheromones? Maybe she's ugly? She's been crushing on a guy named Blake for a long time, but he pays no attention to her at all. Then she goes to a party and everything changes. There's a crazy flash of light, something freaky happens, and suddenly Blake SEES her. Her life isn't the same again. 

Brianna also meets Austin at the party. He is another boy who notices her, and he plays a role in the action of the story. I don't want to give anything away about his character, except to say that I have mixed feelings about him. Also, I sense there is a lot we don't know about him and his motives.

Silver centers around Celtic mythology, and Brianna is descended from Danu, an Irish goddess. I found the mythology in the book to be interesting, but a bit incomplete. However, I really enjoyed the ambiguity in Silver of what is really the "good" side and what is the "bad." It's not cut and dry. One of the aspects of Brianna that I really admired was her ability to look objectively look at the different perspectives she was given without being swayed. I do hope that we get MORE details on the mythology in future books, because we got a lot of pieces of a bigger story, but I didn't feel like it was all there. 

It is no surprise that Brianna is fairly insecure because of her years of invisibility, and also because of Some Other Things that happened in her past. As Brianna begins to realize who she is and what her purpose is to be, I wish we'd seen her gain more confidence than she does. I'd really like to see Brianna become more certain of who she is and what she can do. That doesn't happen as much as I'd like in this book. But it is part of a series, so I'm hoping for more of that in the future.

Brianna has two girl friends, named Haley and Christy. I honestly, did not care for either of them, and felt like their friendships with Brianna were fairly shallow. A lot of petty jealousies and misunderstandings happen in this story. And Brianna's friends tended to blame each other for stealing boyfriends, when it was clear to me that the guys were the problem. I wish that they'd stood up for each other more, and trusted their friends' opinions instead of rumors. I hope that in future books, Brianna either gets better friends or we see a confrontation that leads to a better relationship with them. Some of that may have happened at the end of Silver.

Even though I wasn't impressed with Brianna's friends, I did like how her relationship with her parents developed. It stared off in typical YA book fashion, with her parents being out of touch. But there is a really great scene where Brianna eventually tells her parents what has been going on in her life. I really appreciated the way that she opened up to them, and the fact that they listened to what she had to say. 

The Romance: First I will say that I did NOT like Blake or Austin for at least the first half of the book. I'm still undecided on Austin. Currently it's NOT like, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the author will work to change that in the next book. We'll see. But Blake did grow on me slowly. I eventually understood why he did some of the things that bugged me. But I need more time with him to fully make a decision. 

I also thought the romance was a bit unbalanced, especially in how much of it was shown to the reader. As far as I know, this book has been promoted as a Mature YA/New Adult story, so I was puzzled as to why certain decisions about it were made by the author. For instance, there is a scene at the beginning of the book where we get a lot of description of something that happens to a character, and then a later one where I don't think we got enough. The second scene left out so much that it was confusing, and I had to read it twice to figure out what actually happened. It also wasn't really ever addressed again by the involved characters, which felt very irresponsible and unnecessary (especially if it was going to be handled that way). I know I'm being vague, but I don't want to give away any more specifics. 

I'm going to end on a random high note: I love that Brianna rides horses and spends time in a stable. Although I don't ride currently, I've always loved horses. I enjoyed the scenes between Brianna and her horse Dart. 
Love Triangle Factor: Mild for this book, undecided for the series. It certainly felt like one is coming.

Rating: 2.5 stars Despite this somewhat low rating, I am intrigued enough to read the next book in the series. 

Six Degrees of Separation - Book Style (2)

How is Pushing the Limits related to The Knife of Never Letting Go?

I had such fun doing my last six degrees, that I'm going to try and make it a regular feature every month or so. It's a great way to look back and rethink about the books I've read recently. As before, I've read all of these books in the past month, and all of their similarities are elements that stood out to me in each book.

First: A confession. I went a bit overboard and this list exploded into 9 books instead of 6. I kept thinking about connections and couldn't stop myself. Really it's nine degrees this month. 

NOTE: I've stuck to my no spoilers rule, so you're safe to read these even if you haven't read the books. (Unless I say SPOILER)

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry and Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard feature main characters who are visual artists. When the books begin, both Echo and Bria have stopped drawing because of things that happened in their past. 

Travel plays a big role Wanderlove and Small Damages by Beth Kephart, so much so that the locations that Bria and Kenzie visit are almost characters in their stories, and have a profound affect on their lives. 

Although the subjects of Small Damages and Raw Blue by Kirsty Eager are very different, both are quiet, internal stories about a characters' personal journey to figure out how she wants to live her life. Also, Kenzie and Carly both have ‘jobs’ where they cook, and they spend a lot of time in the kitchen. 

Raw Blue and Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama take place along the coast – the former in Australia and the latter in New England of the US. The sea plays an integral part in both stories. Carly is drawn to the ocean to surf daily, and Syrenka is a mermaid, who even when she's on land, longs for the water. 

Graveyards are very important places for meeting spirits in both Monstrous Beauty and The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater.

Birds and bird imagery are big themes in both The Raven Boys and Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. Magic and mythology also play a role in both stories (I know that sounds vague, but saying more would be a spoiler).

(Slight SPOILER if you haven't read Obsidian yet:) Both Daughter of the Forest and Onyx by Jennifer Armentrout feature main characters who are healers. The ability to heal is integral to who they are and it is key to the plot of both books. 

One word: aliens. In Onyx, aliens are living on earth. In The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, humans are living on an alien planet.  

So there you have it. A small look at how my brain makes connections between books, and also sampling of what I read last month. Can you make your own six+ degrees out of the books you've read recently? See any connections I missed?

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