The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

September 15, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★½

The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterThe Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater Published by Scholastic Press on September 18, 2012
Genres: Magical Realism, YA Paranormal
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from the publisher
three-half-stars
“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.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

Maggie Stiefvater is easily one of the most well-known names in YA thanks to her Wolves of Mercy Falls series and The Scorpio Races. That might make it a little surprising to learn this is my first Stiefvater book. Something about a leaky womb in Shiver turned me from that series, The Scorpio Races never interested me, and faeries like in her Books of Faerie series are rarely my thing. To top it all off, some comments the author made during the author/blogger issues in early 2012 left a bad taste in my mouth. Still, The Raven Boys practically called my name and I went for it. I’m kind of glad I did! I see why so many of my friends love her books.

There isn’t a YA book I’ve read in recent memory that was anything like this. Ley lines have been mentioned in scant few YA novels and Owen Glendower in even fewer, if any at all. They’re both enthralling subjects and turning the pages to find out more about them. I can’t testify to how accurate the details are, but the way Stiefvater spins them in her novel is entertaining enough for me not to care so much about accuracy. Blue, one of the main characters, could have used a little more personality, but the true raven boys were all extraordinarily characterized. Especially Adam!

(Maybe I’m a little biased toward Adam because his character captures the exact same conflict of freedom, how to get it, and how much one is willing to give up in order to get it that the main character in my own manuscript is struggling with. Hush.)

At certain points, The Raven Boys feels overlong, like a good fifty pages or so needed to be cut. The pacing might have something to do with that feeling, though fifty pages or so really do need to be cut. For at least half the book, suspense and the mystery of what the raven boys are up to drive the story, and readers who aren’t fully invested in the mystery–readers like me–may not be able to focus on the book for long. There was also a line that made me giggle-snort:

“Calla blew into the room, her eyebrows quite angry at being disturbed (ARC p. 120).”

The prose was fantastic overall and set the mood perfectly with its descriptions, but this was one of its weaker moments. The meaning is clear, but it might not be clear at first read that the eyebrows aren’t, in fact, sentient. It tripped me up, that’s for sure.

The last line of the book really threw me for a loop. Really? She’s going to toss out a line like that and end the book? Augh! That’s just evil. Now I have to wait another year to find out more and– Well, whatever the case and however evil Stiefvater is for that cliffhanger, I enjoyed The Raven Boys. It hasn’t made me reconsider my decision not to read her other books, but I’m fairly sure I’ll be keeping track of this new series.

Divider

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

September 14, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★½

Ten by Gretchen McNeilTen by Gretchen McNeil Published by HarperTeen on September 18, 2013
Genres: Mystery, YA Horror
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from a swap
two-half-stars
And their doom comes swiftly.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

I’ve been waiting to read Ten for over a year–I’m pretty sure I found out about it just after I finished the author’s first book Possess–and now that I’ve actually read it, I’m disappointed. Other readers have had problems with this book because they were familiar with Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which this book is a retelling of, and didn’t feel Ten was a strong enough retelling. I have not read the original work, but I still have a lot of problems with this novel.

Ten has a grabbing plot and relentless pacing going for it. I read large portions and quick bursts, and putting the novel down to carry on with life didn’t make me very happy. Fans of horror/suspense movies are doubtlessly going to enjoy this and all the campy thrills it offers. I wish I could say it has more going for it, but that’s all I was able to enjoy.

Now then, as I said before, I’ve never read And Then There Were None, though I made myself familiar with it in preparation for reading this novel (and I did that by looking it up on Wikipedia, admittedly). One problem that struck me more than halfway through the novel is that ATTWN’s Wikipedia summary gave me a better sense of characterization and depth in the novel than Ten was able to when read in its entirety. This novel’s characters are very flat and when some of them start dying off, there’s no reason to feel anything about it because we don’t know anything about them. They’re blank people being sent to the slaughterhouses for our entertainment, not actual characters.

Campy things are all fine with me, but I only like certain types and Ten wasn’t that type of camp. It doesn’t help horror  movies aren’t my thing either, and this is like the novelization of a horror movie. The violence is fairly tame and the writing’s immature feel at times fails to build the right atmosphere. Moments where readers would be told something about a character and then shown the exact same thing threw me off too. Extraneous words, they are. I don’t like extraneous words.

Fans of Christie’s novel will want to tread carefully with Ten, since just being familiar with it without ever reading it helped me see quite a few things coming.  I still want to read more from McNeil and hope to see the sequel for Possess be scheduled for release (meanwhile, McNeil’s next novel 3:59 is pitched as a sci-fi/horror mix with a doppleganger twist; I’ll read that), but her second novel was just a little worse than her first.

Divider

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

September 12, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★½

Stormdancer by Jay KristoffStormdancer by Jay Kristoff Published by Thomas Dunne Books on September 18, 2012
Genres: Adult Fantasy
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
three-half-stars
A DYING LAND

 
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.

AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
 
The hunters of Shima's imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

A HIDDEN GIFT
 
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

Japanese steampunk? Yes please. Steampunk is a genre I have a few hits but mostly misses in, but anything with Asian influences and/or subject matter interests me. This and how cool the author is (how an author behaves toward reviewers and other people really makes a difference to me) made me want to read this book so badly that when I saw I was getting a copy, I started jumping up and down and screaming. No joke, I really did. It was a little more excitement than it ultimately deserved, but it did deserve most of it.

Most of the cast is well-characterized, especially main character Yukiko and her father, who is the only family she has left after her twin brother died and her mother left them. There are a few things I still wanted from Yukiko’s characterization, like more insight into where her life was going before the fateful voyage to capture an arashitora/thunder tiger for the Shogun, but her evolution over the novel is both sad because of what she has to go through in order for it to happen and fantastic. Multiple characters are much more than they first appear to be and I loved the surprise of seeing who they really are.

Kristoff’s novel is well-plotted and carries a lot of strong themes, the price of change (as Buruu the thunder tiger puts it, it all boils down to how much you’re willing to give up to get what you want) and the need to protect the environment just two of them. The first half was rough due to some issues with the writing that I’ll detail in a minute, but once I got into the novel, I really enjoyed myself. An event at the end packs some good emotional punch, but considering the themes and how things were already going, I saw it coming and that robbed it of some power.

Why aren’t there more novels like this one? Seriously, this is a much-needed shot of originality into YA (though it’s more of a YA-adult crossover novel than anything else).

Most of my issues with Stormdancer lie with the writing. I have a very short attention span and though I’ve tried to correct it, it’s not something I can easily get around and it troubles me in daily life. In its first half, Stormdancer is heavy on detailing the world, getting down to the most minute pieces, and this clashes badly with my attention span. There are many people who love for their novels to be detailed down to the piece of lint on the back of someone’s pants, but I am not that kind of person. Minute detailing makes me skim and lose interest. The first hundred pages of the novel were a slog for me to read because of that.

Third-person narration is great. The way it opens up the world for greater exploration beyond one person’s mind makes me love it, but even that can have its downfalls. Stormdancer‘s third-person narration bounces in and out of several characters’ heads (I can count at least six off the top of my head, though Yukiko remains prime narrator) and third-party narrator has a distinct voice of their own. What troubles me about novels with this sort of narration is that when a line comes along that leaves a bad impression on me, I can’t be sure whether it’s the character’s thought or the narrator’s, and Stormdancer and I had that issue a few times.

You’re probably tired of hearing me harp on about the writing, but I’ve got just one more grievance to air out: guiding statements. They’re sneaky little things. They don’t seem like they’re telling at first, but they are. They’re also guiding you to feel a certain way rather than showing you the same thing and letting you come to feel a certain way about it yourself.  These happen mainly in the first hundred pages or so of the novel and serve the purpose of setting up the world, but guiding statements really get my goat. I really don’t need to be tricked into feeling a certain way about something. If it is written right, I’ll feel that emotion anyway.

In the second half of the novel, there is marked improvement in every respect–even in areas where you thought it couldn’t get any better! Despite all my issues with the writing, the novel itself was great and I am hooked for the sequel. Bring on book two!

Divider

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang

September 11, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★★

What’s Left of Me by Kat ZhangWhat's Left of Me by Kat Zhang Published by HarperCollins on September 18, 2012
Genres: YA Sci-fi
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
four-stars
Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t…

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable–hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet…for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

The dark horse ride again! And wow, was the ride intense. I came into What’s Left of Me with absolutely no expectations, and what I got blew me away. I need more fantastic YA novels in my life and Zhang gave me exactly what I have been asking for.

Addie and Eva’s relationship as twin souls sharing the same body in a world where hybrids like them are despised, locked up, and considered dangerous is complex and what I would expect from two people in such a situation, though I feel the complexity of their relationship was not explored to its full extent. All the things they have to share whether or not they want to, deeper feelings about their dynamic–details like these are touched on, but I would have liked to see them be delved into more thoroughly. Nevertheless, my heart ached for these girls.

Eva’s position as the narrator when she interacts so little with the story she is part of is a different twist than what I’m used to and I loved it. Her story is tightly told and kept me in my seat when there were a million other things I should have been doing instead of reading this novel. (Eva also gets a bonus for narrating in past tense. Nothing against novels told in present tense, but I can only read so much present tense before I want to do what my brother did and slam my head through a glass door.)

The romantic element is on the backburner for almost the entire novel and it’s better that way. The focus remains on the bond between the characters, which makes the two characters coming together for their requisite romantic kiss at the end that much sweeter (and it was sweet, I promise; even I liked it). Distracting readers with romance when the bond of sisterhood between Addie and Eva and the question of what happens to hybrids when they’re found out would have hurt What’s Left of Me.

The government line put out about hybrids (they’re dangerous!) doesn’t work well. Why are they dangerous? The explanation offered doesn’t fully satisfy me with its circular logic (they’re dangerous because they’re dangerous). Some issues hybrids may have are put out, such as mental instability and constant frustration because of two possibly-incompatible souls sharing one body, but nothing is offered that makes it sound even plausible that they’re dangers to society. The hybrids have good reason to be angry, though–the normals deposed their government, labeled them all threats to society, and started locking them up. Readers are supposed to think the government line is idiotic, but it is so bad that I’m not sure why so many people within the novel believe it.

There is apparently technology in their world that can detect souls? It’s one thing if it can detect changes in brain activity when Eva and Addie “talk”, but some of the research I did indicated that usually happens with more intense cases of DID/MPD. Addie and Eva’s case is anything but intense by even their standards. I will admit this could have been a misinterpretation on my part. And the small anti-vaxxer slant of the novel? I’m not really into that either, and that’s really all I can say about it.

My review kind of makes it sound like I didn’t like it much, but I swear I did. I don’t enjoy books the way I enjoyed What’s Left of Me very often and the little issues are next to nothing for me. I’ll definitely be back for more of The Hybrid Chronicles. Put this on your to-read lists, everyone. Zhang is an author to watch.

Divider

Red Fox by Karina Halle

September 7, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★★

Red Fox by Karina HalleRed Fox by Karina Halle Published by Self-published on June 12, 2011
Genres: Adult Horror, Adult Paranormal
Pages: 324
Format: eBook
Source: finished copy from the author
four-stars
With Book Two of the Experiment in Terror Series, Perry Palomino and Dex Foray trade in the stormy Oregon coast for the unforgiving deserts of New Mexico.

In the for­got­ten town of Red Fox, a Navajo cou­ple is tor­tured by things unseen and by motives unknown. Wild ani­mals slink through their house in the dark, a bar­rage of stones pound their roof nightly, and muti­lated sheep car­casses are turn­ing up on their prop­erty. Armed with a cam­era and just enough to go on, Perry and Dex travel to the des­o­late locale, hop­ing to film the super­nat­ural occur­rences and add cred­i­bil­ity to their flail­ing web­cast. Only their show has a lot more work­ing against them than just grow­ing pains. Tested by dubi­ous ranch hands, a ghost from Dex’s past, and shapeshift­ing decep­tion, the ama­teur ghost hunters must learn to trust each other in order to fight the most ancient of myths…or die trying.

A quick disclaimer before I begin: the author is one of my friends. Neither my rating nor my review have been influenced by this.

This review was hard to write. Like, wow, man. Wow.

Perry and Dex’s new jobs as the host and cameraman of the webshow Experiment in Terror takes them all the way from the Pacific Northwest to New Mexico, home of some creepy-ass shit going on. It’s a good thing I was in the mood for creepy because wow, did this book deliver! Some scenes, like the scorpion attack during the sweat ceremony, were well-written and the best kind of hair-raising. Scary things aren’t my schtick, but I couldn’t stop reading.

Perry and Dex, now posing as husband and wife so they can stay on the ranch where all the unusual activity is happening, still have fantastic banter and their sexual tension is rapidly heating up. With the introduction of Dex’s old/former friend Maximus, we get to learn a little more about how Dex used to be and how that plays a role in who he is as Perry knows him. Perry’s narrative voice drew me in thoroughly–to the point where I decided to take Red Fox with me on laundry day rather than a book I’ve been dying to read for a year and a half. Perry ends up doing some dumb things, but this is Perry. She ain’t perfect and her doing the occasional dumb thing helps move the book along/develop her character.

(My experience was made that much more fun because I read this in tandem with the relevant stories from The Dex-Files and got to see a scene through Dex’s POV as soon as I was done seeing it through Perry’s. I recommend this only if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind spoilers most of the time.)

I can’t recall having many issues with this installment. A little bit of rough writing and editing issues–less than what I saw in Darkhouse and The Benson, which is great–and a lack of understanding about the antagonists’ motivations. As they say in the book, some people just get angry sometimes, and that’s very true. Still, I wanted a little more from it.

Dead Sky Morning, the third book of the series, is ready to go on my Kindle. If the next books on my plate weren’t so high priority (and long-awaited; one of them was delayed for over a year), I’d be jumping into it right now!

Divider

Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield

September 5, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★

Hanging by a Thread by Sophie LittlefieldHanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield Published by Delacorte BFYR on September 11, 2012
Genres: Mystery, YA Contemporary
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
three-stars
Summer is the best part of the year in Winston, California, and the Fourth of July is the highlight of the season. But the perfect town Clare remembers has changed, and everyone is praying that this summer will be different from the last two—that this year's Fourth of July festival won't see one of their own vanish without a trace, leaving no leads and no suspects. The media are in a frenzy predicting a third disappearance, but the town depends on tourist dollars, so the residents of Winston are trying desperately to pretend nothing's wrong.

And they're not the only ones hiding something.

Clare, a seamstress who redesigns vintage clothing, has been blessed—or perhaps cursed—with a gift: she can see people's pasts when she touches their clothes. When she stumbles across a denim jacket that once belonged to Amanda Stavros, last year's Fourth of July victim, Clare sees her perfect town begin to come apart at the seams.

In a town where appearance means everything, how deep beneath the surface will Clare dig to uncover a murderer?

There are a lot of things parents will do for their children. Some will stay in unpleasant situations for the sake of keeping their children safe and happy. Some will break the law (as I learned when my own mother covered what is normally an estimated forty-five minute drive in about twenty minutes trying to get home when something happened to my brother). As well as being a satisfying mystery, Hanging by a Thread is a wonderful illustration of just how far a parent can go for their child.

Clare’s descriptions of what she did with clothing made little sense to me (I am not a fashion person in any sense), but they were charged with such authentic passion for what she was doing that I loved them anyway. The only element of the novel stronger than her voice and descriptions were the interpersonal relationships of Clare and her mother. No, that’s not right. The relationships of multiple characters with their mothers–Clare’s mom with her own mother, Rachel and her mother, and Mrs. Stavros’s struggle after her daughter’s death, along with Clare and her mom–together really make Hanging by a Thread shine.

Her presence could have been stronger, but I liked to see Clare’s mother be given a strong personality and depth when so many books forget about the parents. Her bitterness toward her mother Nana for the trouble Nana’s psychometry (a gift that Clare inherited and used relatively well) caused her, the fights she had with Clare over her life–they felt real. I honestly felt sorry for her after some of the things her daughter said to her. I thought a few times that Clare, as good as her intentions were, needed to butt out of her mother’s life.

My main problem with this book? Jack. More specifically, the romantic relationship between Clare and Jack. It was insta-love from their first conversation over clothes and it never got any better. Why did they like each other? What interests do they share? I have absolutely no idea why these two people are infatuated with one another. Honestly and truly, this book would have earned itself one more star had it not been for this poorly written romance.

Once Clare gets to using everything she has learned to unravel the mystery, everything she didn’t know but needed to know is dumped upon her by another character for two straight chapters. The information itself is shocking because it wasn’t an obvious answer to me, but its delivery was so dry and lacking in finesse that all the shock I should have felt was drained away.

One of my friends gave a glowing review to one of Littlefield’s other books, but I’m not sure I’ll try to read any of her other works after what I’ve found in Hanging by a Thread. I’m scared the romantic angle will end up messing up an otherwise great book like it did here and I can only take so much of that kind of frustration per year. Meeting my quota so early in the year would not be a good idea, I think. Still, the potential shown in Hanging by a Thread to create strong relationships between family members makes it a possibility.

Divider

Living Violet by Jaime Reed

September 1, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★½

Living Violet by Jaime ReedLiving Violet by Jaime Reed Published by Dafina/K-Teen on December 27, 2011
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 304
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
three-half-stars
He's persuasive, charming, and way too mysterious. And for Samara Marshall, her co-worker is everything she wants most--and everything she most fears. . .

Samara Marshall is determined to make the summer before her senior year the best ever. Her plan: enjoy downtime with friends and work to save up cash for her dream car. Summer romance is not on her to-do list, but uncovering the truth about her flirtatious co-worker, Caleb Baker, is. From the peculiar glow to his eyes to the unfortunate events that befall the girls who pine after him, Samara is the only one to sense danger behind his smile.

But Caleb's secrets are drawing Samara into a world where the laws of attraction are a means of survival. And as a sinister power closes in on those she loves, Samara must take a risk that will change her life forever. . .or consume it.

Living Violet didn’t really have any expectations to live up to, but if it had had any, it surpassed them easily. So much fluff that I could choke on it! A heroine with a brain! The cover might make it seem SUPER SRS, but this book is not that serious and overdramatic. It’s pretty funny, actually.

Samara’s narrative voice flows well and her story is compulsively readable. Rather than reading a few chapters at a time, I read the entire book in three or four quick bursts where I couldn’t get enough. She’s got a good brain in her head too; multiple times, she’s not afraid to enforce some boundaries on Caleb and get some distance when things become too much for her to handle. She also recognizes that Google is not very helpful when it comes to finding out more about one’s supernatural boyfriend. More than one silly trope in YA PNR gets picked on and most of the time, it’s done pretty well.

Though the novel lost direction for a while roughly halfway through, finding the motivation to read on was rarely a problem. Samara’s wisecracking as she poked the tropes, her developing relationship with Caleb, and the development of Reed’s fascinating mythology behind the Cambions were what usually kept me going. Even though low blows at popular books normally irritate me, this one’s attempt at it (complete with a teenage girl who says others are just jealous and don’t get it the way a troll on someone’s review might) made me start giggling. Those sections are highlighted so I can get back to them more easily.

So what kept me from giving what was one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in recent memory a higher rating? For one, the writing was a little… over-the-top sometimes. One line where Caleb’s gaze was able to disrobe and deflower her while still looking innocent had me rolling my eyes and there were similar moments throughout the novel. Samara also had three strikes against her for calling a guy a man-whore (that’s not okay no matter what gender they are), calling some preteen girls prostitots (I have NO respect for anyone real or fictional who has no problem using this word), and use of “retarded” to call something stupid. I don’t quite care if it’s “realistic”; it still makes me angry.

The implications of one of the reasons Samara is able to resist Caleb’s pull is rather iffy too. She can resist because she’s a virgin and is satisfied with her love life as it is, but girls who have had sex or are somewhat unhappy with their love life will throw themselves at Caleb–sometimes literally. Basically, if they’ve had a taste of guys, these girls can’t stop themselves sometimes. (That leaves me asking: what about the gay people? Are lesbians attracted to Caleb just because they’re female? Are gay guys attracted to him on his own merits or does the pull affect them too?)

I was entertained enough by Living Violet to want its sequel Burning Emerald ASAP (though it helps that the sequel’s blurb says something about the antagonist wanting Samara; I’m a crackshipper by nature and that blurb dangled catnip in front of my face). If you’re in a bad mood and need something sweet and fluffy, check this book out. Who knows? All the sweets consumed in-book might even keep you from going for comfort food instead!

Divider