Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe

September 21, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★

Give Up the Ghost by Megan CreweGive Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe Published by Henry Holt and Co. on September 15, 2009
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Bought
three-stars
Cass McKenna much prefers ghosts over “breathers.” Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody…and Cass loves dirt. She’s on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of the poseurs in her school.

But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass’s whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees.

As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim’s life, she’s surprised to realize he’s not so bad—and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it’s time to give the living another chance….

This review’s tone may seem a little strange, but this book put me in a very strange place because of how I was feeling due to outside factors when I read it. I haven’t quite crawled out of that hole yet.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Crewe’s novels and I always love a good ghost story. Give Up the Ghost has been sitting on my shelf for a few months and when in need of a short, hopefully good book, this is the one I came to. It was good, alright.

Cass is almost impossible to like, but you get where she’s coming from too. She’s been hurt badly by the people around her and she has many issues she needs to work through. Rather than deal with complicated things like people, she’d rather deal with simple things: ghosts. Reading through her eyes, especially at the beginning of the novel, is difficult because of this and the way she’s so obsessed with being negative and getting dirt on everyone, but if one can stick with it, the payoff in Cass’s character is fantastic.

In a way, Crewe’s writing in this novel reminds me of my own. It doesn’t waste time on the little details and is more focused on the characters’ feelings and personal issues because it knows that is where the strength of the novel lies. We can’t not understand why Cass is the way she is, though we may disagree with her strongly. Give Up the Ghost is completely character-driven and also very short, coming in at only 241 pages. That’s about the perfect length for it. If it had reached 300 pages, this would have been a bore to read.

It’s also a very subdued, quiet novel that still manages to be fairly powerful. It lacks some of the punch it really needs to bring everything full circle for the reader, but it definitely ended up punching me harder than I expected. I identified too much with Cass’s issues of not being able to communicate with living people and get along with them and it ended up becoming too personal for me to handle. I’d… rather not go into it any further.

I can see myself coming back to this in the future, but only if I’m in a good mood. It’s a bit too personal to touch when I’m in a bad mood.

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Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh

September 20, 2012 Reviews 0

Enshadowed by Kelly CreaghEnshadowed by Kelly Creagh Published by Atheneum on August 28, 2012
Genres: Gothic, YA Horror, YA Paranormal
Pages: 432
Format: Hardcover
Source: Bought
True love takes a twisted turn in the second book of this modern gothic romance trilogy channeling the dark brilliance of Edgar Allan Poe.

While Varen remains a prisoner in a perilous dream world where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life, Isobel travels to Baltimore to confront the dark figure known throughout the world as the Poe Toaster. This man, the same man who once appeared to Isobel in her dreams and abandoned her in Varen’s nightmare world, holds the key to saving Varen.

But when Isobel discovers a way to return to this dream world, she finds herself swept up in a realm that not only holds remnants of Edgar Allan Poe’s presence, but has also now taken on the characteristics of Varen’s innermost self. It is a dark world of fear, terror, and anger.

When Isobel once more encounters Varen, she finds him changed. And now Isobel must face a new adversary—one who also happens to be her greatest love .

A year and two months of waiting. That’s nothing compared to the full two years other fans have been waiting, but it was painful. Then my mail room held Enshadowed hostage for an entire week and my grin was as wide as the state of Florida is long once I got it. It’s a bit weaker than the first book of the series, but Enshadowed was just as difficult to put down and managed to improve itself in a few areas. But that cliffhanger makes me want to toss a chair out the window.

Isobel is forced to carry much of the book on her shoulders, and at times, she isn’t strong enough to carry all that weight. Still, Enshadowed fleshes out her relationships with other characters, especially her family. The family is often forgotten and I’m glad she at least considers how her actions have hurt/will hurt them. Personally, I really like Isobel.

The rumors are true: Varen is barely in this book. He is sorely missed, as are the scenes between him and Isobel that made Nevermore so much fun to read, but the presence of Pinfeathers (a character I already liked and now love after reading this book) made his absence more bearable. Still, there’s so much about this novel that still clicks with me. Creagh’s prose is perfect for the story she’s telling and the strange happenings in Isobel’s life (like, say, a lullaby following her everywhere and seeing Varen in reflective surfaces on occasion) increase to give the book better pacing overall.

A point many of my friends made about Nevermore was that Isobel could be really, really thick sometimes, though I never noticed. I was too enveloped in the story to care. This time around, I see exactly what those friends of mine mean. One of the messages Pinfeathers gives her is fairly clear, but his pronoun use goes right over her head and it’s a bit frustrating. Her original lack of planning/research for how she’d get into the cemetery on Poe’s birthday grated on me too.

I really, really hope book three in Creagh’s series doesn’t get delayed a year the way Enshadowed did. I don’t think I could take it. Just–just–I can’t even–! Augh! Cliffhangers like that are evil.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Splintered by A.G. Howard

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Scorch by Gina Damico

September 19, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★

Scorch by Gina DamicoScorch by Gina Damico Published by Graphia on September 25, 2012
Genres: Comedy, YA Horror, YA Paranormal
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
three-stars
Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby is a teenage grim reaper with the bizarre ability to Damn souls. That makes her pretty scary, even to fellow Grims. But after inadvertently transferring her ability to Zara, a murderous outlaw, Lex is a pariah in Croak, the little town she calls home. To escape the townspeople’s wrath, she and her friends embark on a wild road trip to DeMyse. Though this sparkling desert oasis is full of luxuries and amusements, it feels like a prison to Lex. Her best chance at escape would be to stop Zara once and for all—but how can she do that from DeMyse, where the Grims seem mysteriously oblivious to Zara’s killing spree?

The second book in Damico’s Croak series brings just as many laughs as the first book, along with more shocking revelations, more action, and excitement readers won’t want to miss. I was a bit of a slow reader with this one due to some other stuff I had to do (pre-moving frenzy, buying more books, spending the night at a friend’s house, stuff like that), this fast-paced ride will make anyone who already read and loved Croak happy. If you haven’t read the first book, I suggest you get right to it.

The heavy presence of DeMyse in the jacket copy may imply that most of the book takes place there, but it doesn’t. DeMyse is a quick yet important pit stop in this novel’s road trip. Most of the action happens within Croak itself as unrest over Zara’s killing spree and Lex’s own abilities rise. Intrigue is abound, tensions are high, bombs go off, and everyone seems to be against Uncle Mort and the Juniors. It’s all very serious, but there are some good laughs squeezed in their too, especially when it comes to Uncle Mort’s attempts to interfere with Lex and Driggs’ love life since Lex’s dad isn’t there to do it. I keep flipping back to the Incident That Must Not Be Named because it never fails to get a laugh out of me. “WHERE are my PANTS?” I’ll be quoting that scene forever!

I like how Lex’s character is developing, but admittedly, I’m a big fan of Uncle Mort and everything he has going on behind the scenes. There’s always something he isn’t telling Lex and the other Juniors, and he’s got plans in place that no one knows about until he decides it’s time to enact them. Funny, smart, exactly the kind of adult this rowdy, nervous group of teenagers needs when they’re on the run… He’s easily the most dynamic character in the entire series and I’d keep reading just to see how he’ll surprise readers next.

If you think you can predict what’s going on in this novel, you might want to think again. I did see a few things coming, but other revelations that come in the last thirty pages or so gave me a serious shock. But he– And she– How did he— Argh! It makes my head spin just thinking about it, but I like that I was so surprised by all the twists.

Now then, what I didn’t like. Norwood and Heloise, the husband-and-wife team that hate Uncle Mort and all the Juniors, made me roll my eyes too many times to be healthy with their over-the-top behavior, and the way most of Croak’s citizens reacted was a little ridiculous to me too. If it were just that, this novel would be four stars, but the way Lex finds it necessary to call Sofi, a fellow Junior she and the other Juniors don’t really get along with, a tramp takes away another star.

Scorch ends on a pretty sizable cliffhanger and I’m looking forward to the release of the third book. Though my rating is lower due to some personal standards of mine, Scorch is just as good, if not better, than Croak. Definitely recommended!

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The Blessed by Tonya Hurley

September 18, 2012 Reviews 0 ½

The Blessed by Tonya HurleyThe Blessed by Tonya Hurley Published by Simon and Schuster BFYR on September 25, 2012
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Borrowed
half-star
From the author of the New York Times bestselling ghostgirl series, the start to a captivating and haunting teen trilogy about three girls who become entangled with an enigmatic boy—a boy who believes he is a saint.
 What if martyrs and saints lived among us? And what if you were told you were one of them?Meet Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy. Three lost girls, each searching for something. But what they find is Beyond Belief.

I’m hoping I don’t step on too many toes with this one. A book with deep roots in religion is not that easy to review and The Blessed had so many problems that I almost didn’t want to write a review for it. I’m being as even-handed as humanly possible, but this just is not a good book at all. My copy was an ARC, meaning changes will be made before final publication, and I’m hoping a lot of changes will be made.

I suppose one thing I can appreciate about the novel is its dual nature. One can read it as Sebastian, a boy who is a saint, revealing Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy’s true natures to them or they can read it as Sebastian, a mentally ill boy whose delusions make him think he’s a saint, trying to lure Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy to him so he can create a cult of his own. There’s ample evidence to support either view.

Narrative consistency is the biggest issue. The POV head-jumps in the middle of scenes like head-jumping is an Olympic sport and this book is going for the gold. For instance, we still start out in the head of Agnes during a scene, but before the scene is over, we get inside the heads of Sebastian, Lucy, and Cecelia and get their (totally unnecessary to the scene/moment) thoughts. In another scene, we’re witnessing a phone conversation in the POV of another character named Jesse, but we’re told the person on the other line is gritting their teeth. If the other people is gritting their teeth loudly enough to be heard over the phone, they’re screwing up their pearly whites pretty badly! All of this happens with little to no smooth transitioning.

The prose itself was stilted and the dialogue tended to be immature, unrealistic, lifeless, or a mixture of all the above. Agnes calling her classmates “classholes” when they make fun of her for attempting suicide made me roll my eyes. They’re making fun of her over a suicide attempt, for goodness’ sake! That’s beyond nasty! I’d break out the big guns for far less–and have, actually. Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy lacked the characterization they needed to make me care about them and where they were going. I don’t even know what Cecelia’s background is! And if these girls hadn’t slut shamed, this novel would have earned one more star from me. Seriously, I’m not tolerating stuff like that anymore. One star is automatically lost if I see it happen.

Hurley’s novel, clocking in at over 400 pages, suffers from a case of remarkably terrible pacing. Nothing happens for over half the novel and the explanations we’re all begging for aren’t given until they’re less than 100 pages from the end. What will keep readers hooked until then? I’m not sure. I had to force myself to keep reading so I could move on to other books and get my copy back to my friend.

Toward the end, when the plot finally kicks in and all the action this book has been holding back on is suddenly released, I was too disgusted to enjoy it very much. Lucy putting burning coals in the mouth of a guy who attacked her was beyond cruel. I have no problem with her killing him (after all, he attacked her and was going to kill her), but torturing him like that? I don’t care whether the good guys or the bad guys are doing it or what their reasons are; torture by burning coals in the mouth is a hundred kinds of wrong.

The first in a trilogy, The Blessed needs a massive overhaul before it takes the first step toward being a good book. I’ve recently come to understand ARCs can be drastically different from the finished product and I’m hoping this book gets a massive overhaul done on its writing, characters, and pacing. A modern reimagining of three saints’ stories sounds like a great idea, but its execution is ultimately a failure as it is right now.

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The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

September 17, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★

The Crown of Embers by Rae CarsonThe Crown of Embers by Rae Carson Published by Greenwillow on September 18, 2012
Genres: YA Fantasy
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from a swap
three-stars
In the sequel to the acclaimed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a seventeen-year-old princess turned war queen faces sorcery, adventure, untold power, and romance as she fulfills her epic destiny.

Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone's power. That is not all she finds. A breathtaking, romantic, and dangerous second volume in the Fire and Thorns trilogy.

I can still sum up exactly how I felt about The Girl of Fire and Thorns easily: a great idea with a fantastic scene or two, but its plotting and forehadowing needed vast improvements. The Crown of Embers bore the weight of all my hopes for improvement but unfortunately, there is no growth. This is at the exact same level of quality as book one. I’m a genuine fan, but it’s frustrating to have to deal with so much bad to get so much good.

Elisa continues to grow as a person and grow into her role as a queen. It forces her to do some pretty terrible things and she still gets tricked every now and then, but she’s still growing and figuring out who she is. Some of her mistakes are a little more irritating–like wishing only beauty, charm, and a slender body on a baby; for someone who used to be overweight and put more value on intelligence, she’s suddenly quite shallow–but I can deal with it. Her relationship with Hector builds well, though their dramatics toward the end grow tiring very quickly.

I got annoyed for a bit because of everyone challenging Elisa’s rule due to her gender and saying she had to marry ASAP, but thankfully, Elisa is pissed off by it too and it’s never justified. Still, I am so tired of seeing this in fantasy novels. Why have I read only a single fantasy novel where no one has any problem with a queen ruling on her own? That’s just sad. We need more!

Both my main problems with this novel are issues that carried over from the first book: lacking plotting and blatant foreshadowing.

At some points, turning the pages came natural to me and they practically flew by; other times, fifty pages lay ahead of me and such a small number of pages was such a grand struggle to get through. The first half of the novel completely failed to grab me, though the climax and the hurricane scene (the hands-down best scene of the entire novel) were perfectly written. There are no ways to make them better than they already are. The problem is simply that the court intrigue that drives the first half of the novel simply doesn’t interest me, especially because it’s so obvious what is going on. Speaking of which…

Oh, the foreshadowing: it’s subtle like a hammer to your bare feet. In the very first chapters of the novel, Franco’s name is connected to no less than two serious incidents and he is blatantly suspicious, but Elisa never really investigates him, nor does she realize what the general and the conde are planning. Both of those details are so screamingly obvious that I was screaming at the book/Elisa to wake up and look at what’s right in front of her face. I think this is supposed to be an attempt at Checkhov’s Gun, but it fails badly.

There’s also a moment toward the end that’s supposed to be tense. Elisa has to sacrifice a character to get what she needs, but readers haven’t even gotten to know that character well enough to care about him and give his sacrifice any weight. Then she doesn’t have to sacrifice him after all and if it had weight before, it certainly doesn’t now. “Frustrating” is the word of this book.

I like this series. I do. Putting words to the good of this novel is a much harder than detailing the flaws, sadly. It’s one of those books. I’m looking forward to the release of The Bitter Kingdom next year and a little sad about the series coming to an end (though Carson has signed a deal to write a new historical fantasy trilogy once the Fire and Thorns trilogy is done; I’ll probably be reading that too). But really, if the plotting does not get better and the foreshadowing does not become less obvious, I may just shove my head through a wall.

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Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

September 16, 2012 Reviews 0 ★½

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan VivianBurn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian Published by Simon and Schuster BFYR on September 18, 2012
Genres: Magical Realism, YA Contemporary
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from an ARC tour
one-half-stars
BIG GIRLS DON'T CRY...

THEY GET EVEN.

Lillia has never had any problems dealing with boys who like her. Not until this summer, when one went too far. No way will she let the same thing happen to her little sister.

Kat is tired of the rumours, the insults, the cruel jokes. It all goes back to one person– her ex-best friend– and she's ready to make her pay.

Four years ago, Mary left Jar Island because of a boy. But she's not the same girl anymore. And she's ready to prove it to him.

Three very different girls who want the same thing: sweet, sweet revenge. And they won't stop until they each had a taste.

The use of vengeance as motivation in novels is one of my favorite motivations. It’s the main reason I like The Count of Monte Cristo, aka the ultimate revenge book. I even have a small stuffed pig named Nemesis, her namesake being the Greek goddess of vengeance and divine retribution. Vivian and Han’s collaboration seemed like it was perfectly tailored to suit my love of fictional vengeance, but it ended up falling flat in more than a few areas–especially concerning the cheerleaders’ duties to the football players.

One-hundred fifty pages into the book, it seemed this was going to be a solid four-star read. The girls had the potential to be fully realized characters worth getting invested in, though they hadn’t managed to actually gain that sort of depth in those first one-hundred fifty pages. They still had plenty of time to develop. Little happened to start with, but there was something about the book and the way it was written that kept me reading and wouldn’t let me put it down. All but the first twenty pages were read in a single day.

Sadly, as the book went on, it kept getting worse. I ignored a few prose/bad word choice problems because this is an ARC and I expect such blatant errors as a thumb and a ring finger being next to one another and eyes doubling their size (not just widening, but growing twice their size) to be caught before final copies are made.

Other problems are not as easy to ignore. Lillia calling a girl slutty took away one star, as is my policy. Another half-star was lost because as a big football fan, I can tell proper research was not done on the system used to give football players their numbers. I spent over half an hour confirming that a quarterback would not be number sixty-three and that kind of distraction wasn’t good for me. Lillia also holds the Idiot Ball for a moment when she thinks sunburns are just a cosmetic issue and don’t actually hurt. Even when they’re really bad sunburns all over a person and it’s her fault they’re sunburned.

Then I came to this.

In the school Lillia, Kat, and Mary attend, each cheerleader is assigned a football player at the beginning of the year and given his name, birthday, favorite kind of cookies, locker numbers and combinations, home address, cell phone number, etc. in order to take care of him. The cheerleader’s job is to support him, decorate his locker, bake him cookies on game days (and probably his birthday too), and keep him happy. If one of the girls doesn’t cheer for her assigned player at a game, she is reminded of the commitment she made to that player. You mean, the commitment she was forced into, since she is not allowed to choose or object to her assignment? Only the head cheerleader, Rennie, and the football players have any say in who is assigned to who.

This can’t be excused as a creation of the antagonist Rennie either. Considering she was assigned to someone her freshman year, it appears she inherited it. The only objection to this blatant, offensive use of gender roles is a mild one coming from a cheerleader who isn’t happy she was assigned a player who will never make it onto the field. The only reason this cheerleader-football player dynamic appears to be in the book is to give Lillia a way to find Alex’s locker combinations and numbers. There has to be a less offensive way to get her the same information!

I nearly quit right there because I was unhappy about Lillia’s sexual assault being almost completely glossed over too, but I was so hopeful that I kept reading. Lillia’s beef with Alex, which was her motivation to seek vengeance, could have been resolved with a simple conversation and the way that one conversation was held off on until the very end of the book was a rather contrived way to keep her going. The pranks, somewhat “tame” things like switching a guy’s sunscreen with zit medicine that makes their skin really sensitive to sunlight and trying to keep Rennie from winning homecoming queen, suddenly lead to a prank that almost kills someone. In the end, none of the girls got the depth their characterizations gave them the potential to have.

The slight supernatural touch at the end–think Carrie–and the cliffhanger make me want to stick around for book two, as well as my desire to see these girls grow. Maybe with more books, the potential they have to be well-formed characters who feel real will be realized. As is stands, this is one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had in 2012.

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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.

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