Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Guys. GUYS.
This is going to be another one of those times when I completely gush about a new book and say just about nothing negative in regard to it, because it is PERFECTION. Five stars, again. And trust me, it's really hard to get 5 stars from me. Yes, this is going to end up being one of those books that I put on a pedestal and turn all red in the face if ever I see or hear a negative word about it.

So this is a little backward, but The Raven Boys was my first Maggie Stiefvater book. I've never read the Shiver series, and I own The Scorpio Races but haven't read that yet either. So I went into this book completely blind and not really knowing what to expect. But HOLY CRAP is my mind blown. I'm writing this review two days after finishing the book because I've been having trouble even forming the right words.

Let me just organize my thoughts into categories here. Of course, I must start with my most important category:


The characters in this book are some of the best I've ever encountered. Like, they're so flawed and real but also still characters in the sense that they're exciting and new, and can't really be compared to anyone in real life. Of course these are just vague descriptions of a bunch of characters, so I'll go character-by-character.
First, there's the main character, Blue. I just love her. She doesn't take crap from anyone. She has a pretty leash-free relationship with her mother, and doesn't really listen even when her mother does tell her what to do. She stands up to the macho raven boys with a quick wit and no fear, which would be impressive even if she weren't a mere five feet tall. She isn't too keen on doing what's expected of her, but she always does the sensible thing. It's almost like she thinks about her feelings even more than she actually feels them, because she likes to be in control of them.
Then there's Gatsb-- I mean Gansey (sorry, my brain has involuntarily made connections between Gatsby and Gansey). I hardly even know how to explain what a perfect character he is, because he's so complicated and unexpected. Imagine meeting a guy who's been filthy rich his whole life. He goes to an all-boys' private school, uses his money to get what he wants, and condescends to people who aren't as rich as him. But the thing is, the condescension is completely unintentional. He doesn't realize he's doing it. And his relationship with money isn't quiet so simple either-- it's not just that he has so much of it that he doesn't think twice about throwing it at anyone who can do something for him; it's that he's never known any different. He's jealous of the people who haven't had money their whole lives, because he secretly wants to be normal. Sure, he's in-control, suave, confident Gansey. But he's also just Gansey, the boy who wants to carve his own path. The boy who gets excited about things, who wishes he hadn't been raised to use three- and four-syllable words that nobody else knows, or cherish ridiculous things like fancy cars and glass plates, or ride in private helicopters without realizing that it's a little excessive. And he cares so much about his motley little group of friends, because of the feeling he got when he met each of them-- that it was just right. He may seem like the type whose head guides his every move, but Gansey's heart is what really does it.
Then we've got Nic-- I mean Adam. The level-headed, "elegant"-looking kid from the not-a-trailer park, whose private school sweater has a pull on the shoulder because he can't afford a new one. The most trustworthy one for Blue, it seems, but oh, did I mention these characters are complicated? Yes, Adam has a dark side. I won't tell you what it is, but he's both the most innocent and down-to-earth raven boy of the bunch and possibly the most off-his-rocker. Gansey is the leader of the group, but Adam is the only one to whom Gansey ever defers. He respects Adam's opinions on all things, and Adam forces himself to see the best in Gansey, reminding himself that he doesn't mean to be condescending. His devotion is tested and tested again, and the beautiful thing is that I can't tell you it's never broken. Adam is not flawless, he has his weak moments, and he's all the more perfect because of it.
Then there's Ronan. The brute who nurses a baby raven back to health. The raven named Chainsaw who has also made appearances in his dreams, because his head is only a safe place for a chainsaw. He's got a secret and we don't know what it is. He seems tough and heartless, but he's also the person who tried to teach Gansey how to fight to protect himself, and the person who defended Adam in a situation when nobody else would dare get involved. Mostly in the first book Ronan is a mystery, but I have a feeling we'll be learning a lot more about him in the next one.
Then you've got a bunch of eccentric supporting characters, and I'll just say that you hardly even have to look to see who's talking because you can tell just by what they're saying. Which is a feat in itself.


The plot in this book is extremely twisty and confusing and I wouldn't have it any other way. It was impossible to guess what was going to happen, because half the time you're still trying to figure out what just happened. You're waiting for Blue's prophecy (that her kiss will kill her true love) to come true, but at the same time it's possible that you've already seen it. You're wondering if she's really going to fall in love with Gansey (sure seems like it), or if that was a misdirect. You're wondering what's going on in the magical world and what it has to do with the real world. My favorite thing is looking for connections in stories, and this book gives me a whole crapload of that. So I'm happy.


IT IS ABSOLUTELY PERFECT. Do not go into this book thinking it will be a romance novel, because you will be doing yourself a serious disservice. Yes, the main hook is the whole thing about Blue being destined to kill her true love, but it is not about the romance. At least not in the first book. In this one, Blue starts seeing Adam, and it's completely innocent and adorable but it also has dark undertones because Adam's got some issues that Blue doesn't know about, and Blue knows that she's either going to kill Gansey or fall in love with him. Her relationship with Adam, believe it or not, allows her relationship with Gansey to develop, because she gets to spend time with him as friends. She gets to learn about who he really is before simply assuming that she's going to fall in love with him. It gets to be her choice (no insta-love!!!!!!!!). Gansey becomes the only person she tells about the prophecy, because at this point, to her, he seems so detached from it. I felt like this was the perfect way to start their relationship without really starting it-- and without really confirming that there will even be a relationship.


Unique, interesting, transporting, clear, and kind of a character in itself.


Beautiful. Flawless. More, please.

I think I'm going to stop myself before this becomes ridiculously long and gushy. I just had to say something because I can't stop thinking about this book and these characters and their relationships and okay bye.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

You know how in every teen movie ever, there's always that party that gets way out of hand and giant dudes end up throwing around breakable things with no concern for their fragility? And 9 out of 10 times, that thing ends up smashed to bits? Well, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan is a pair of giant dudes, and my heart is that breakable thing.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I think you should read the book. HEY, don't give me that look. I'm not crazy. I want you to read it because, sure, I am selfish and do not like to be alone in my misery. But also because I am selfless and want other people to experience good things. And Unspoken is a good thing. A very good thing. And also a thing that will use your feelings like a hacky sack. But let's start with the good things first:


This was, without a doubt, the first time I've laughed hysterically at a book (for what is probably not considered a normal amount of time) since I read the animal crackers scene in The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. And I still have times when I think about that scene at any random moment in the middle of the day and turn into one of those crazy people who seems to be laughing for no reason at all. So yeah. This book is funny (even if you don't have the memory of Sarah unbuttoning her cardigan whilst doing a dramatic reading from it, as I so vividly do). My favorite spoiler-free hilarity:

Kami strode through a froth of daisies to a half-fallen wall that might once have been part of a fortress, but was now a tumble of stones studded with spiky yellow blooms. She bent down, rummaging in the wild tangle of garden around her feet, and chose a pebble. A large pebble. Kami wound her arm back, took careful aim, and threw.
The "pebble" crashed through both glass and curtain.
There was the creak of an old sash window being thrust open, and Jared's head and shoulders appeared at the window. "Hark," he said, his tone very dry. "What stone through yonder window breaks?"
Kami yelled up at him, "It is the east, and Juliet is a jerk!"
*pause to get laughter under control* [I mean, she just smashed his window open and he pulls out Romeo & Juliet?!]
Jared abandoned Shakespeare and demanded, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Throwing a pebble," said Kami defensively. "Uh... and I'll pay for the window."
Jared vanished and Kami was ready to start shouting again, when he reemerged with the pebble clenched in his fist. "This isn't a pebble! This is a rock."
"It's possible that your behavior has inspired some negative feelings that caused me to pick a slightly overlarge pebble," Kami admitted. 


I'm a sucker for a good character. Any good character, really. But these aren't just any good characters. You're going to wish you had a Kami Glass, Lady Sleuth, in your life. Kami is not only witty and entertaining, but she has the endearing quality of being so objective that she sees both the best and the possible worst in everyone. She's no damsel in distress, but she's not an invulnerable stone either. You're going to simultaneously want your own Jared Lynburn and hope that you never, ever get one. He's a bad boy but he doesn't really know why. He's full of anger and despair but also lightness and vulnerability similar to Kami's. You're even going to love the overly-boy-friendly Holly, who most other books would have turned into a teenaged nemesis in a frenzy of girl-hate. She's wide-eyed but also logical, friendly but also lonely. All of the characters are so beautifully complicated, I could go on and on, but I'll spare you. Just. Yes. Good.


Do not put this book down. It will start making irresistible weepy noises and begging you to come back to it.

You want an awesome concept for a book? Imaginary friend turns out to be real. He's got a weird family. Murders (both human and fuzzy woodland creature-- oh yes, she went there) abound and you think his weird family has something to do with it. Oh, and there's some weird magicky thing happening in the woods, and someone's trying to kill you. You know.


So, if you're one of those literary masochists (like me), who are not complete until a book has turned you into a puddle of emotions on the floor, I HAVE GOOD NEWS. The end of this book had me unable to form a coherent sentence about it for going on 3 hours. You see, throughout the whole thing, there are ups and downs-- moments that kind of lift you up and make you squee like a schoolgirl, followed by moments that throw that squee out the window and run it over with a large sedan. But nothing will prepare you for the end, when *something* happens and you're like FINALLY and you're walking on clouds and life is wonderful and you're about to slide down a rainbow and then suddenly it's all gone and there is nothing left and, nope, there's no parachute to soften this blow, so you're hurtling to the cold, hard earth that is the end of the book. And then, as my friend Will Herondale would say, you're left lying limply on the ground, trying to remember your own name.*


No, really. That's all I have to say about it. I hope I sold you on the book, and I hope you love it. But mostly, I hope you fangirl and commiserate with me.

*- I have found this phrase can apply to many different situations. For instance, Will used it to indicate how charmed Aloysius Starkweather would be by him. I have just used it to indicate how broken you will be by the end of this book. Just saying, it's a very versatile phrase.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book review: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone

I really wish I were one of those people who could give a book 5 stars based on writing alone. Because, let me tell you, this one would probably get 6 stars for the writing. The writing in this book is gorgeous and thoughtful and stopped me dead in my tracks more than once. The story is compelling, and the setting is like a main character in itself.
Unfortunately, my literary preferences don't tend toward the writing, or the story, or the setting. I can appreciate all of these things when done well, and any book that does them all well is probably going to automatically get at least a 3-star rating from me. But my literary preferences tend toward characters, and this book was seriously lacking in that department.
Let me get this out of the way: I don't care if characters are unlikable. I don't care if they're so skeevy that I literally feel uncomfortable reading the book while they're on the page. I do, however, care if I have no idea why they are the way they are. I need to know what makes them tick. I need my characters, if not totally realistic, to at least be believable for one reason or another. In this book, I found the main character extremely boring half of the time, and extremely whiney the other half of the time.  She's whiney when she goes on about how much she hates being from a small town. She's boring when she constantly ruminates on how she no longer believes in her life plans and considers staying in Bridgeton-- to me, that kind of thinking shows a complete lack of spark. Her whole life she's had these plans, and suddenly she's going to throw them away because of a relationship with a guy who's hardly worth the sacrifice? She doesn't think they'll work out if she leaves. I don't know why she doesn't see that that, in itself, is an answer to her question. We're going to break up if I go after my dreams... something's not right here. [In this vein, I'd just like to say that I really enjoyed the parallels between Rebecca and Amelia and their respective boyfriends, and how they're both on the cusp of going after what they really want and yet something is grasping at them with the claws of dreams deferred and lives unlived.]
Which brings me to my next character issue: James. Dude was seriously overbearing and prickly and just did not sit right with me at all-- which would be fine, like I said, if I had any idea why he was this way. I know that his mom died of cancer. This is a fairly short book, and it kind of seemed like on one page James was all sappy about having been there when his mother died, or not having intended to hurt Rebecca when he broke up with her, and then on the next page he was back to telling Rebecca what to do and not caring at all what she thought about anything. I get that this was to sway the reader's trust away from James, in preparation for the almost-surprising plot twist at the end, but it ultimately just left me wondering what Rebecca even saw in him. As a love interest, he wasn't appealing at all.
The same goes for Luke, who was basically exactly like James, except a little more out of control.
The only character in this book I really thought was fully fleshed-out and interesting was Amelia. She knew what she wanted, and she never once considered giving it up for Luke. She even knew that if he wasn't happy for her, she didn't want to be with him anymore. I even feel like I understood her feelings for Luke more than I understood Rebecca's feelings for James because she completely trusted Luke. It never seemed like Rebecca truly trusted James, which got in the way when it came to buying/understanding her hesitance to leave Bridgeton because of him. Amelia was going to tell Luke her plans to go after her dreams no matter what he thought of them; Rebecca was about to tell James her plan to abandon her dreams. James's redemption came when he told Rebecca he wanted her to go anyway, because he didn't know where he'd be. Rebecca's redemption came in the epilogue, when it had been years since she'd even seen James and we learn that she had left Bridgeton and never gone back.
As for the plot, I felt it was kind of slow. I ended up skimming the second half of the book (the second time this has happened to me this week!), and I thought a lot of the "In small towns" chapters, though wonderfully crafted, were slightly unnecessary and distracting. As was the whole thing with Craig, which kind of just seemed like a device to add drama to an already dramatic story.
To end on a positive note, let me just reiterate that the writing in this book is showstoppingly, devastatingly beautiful. It's definitely worth reading if you're not a stickler for characters like I am... heck, maybe even if you are.