All the Crooked Saints: A Review

Here is a thing that draws everyone to Bicho Raro: The promise of a miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears after their first miracle: What they’ll need to do to complete their second miracle.

The strange magic of miracles has been a part of the Soria family for generations–long before the family left Mexico for the desert of Bicho Raro, Colorado.

Now, in 1962, three cousins are at a turning point where magic and action intersect.

Joaquin wants many things. He wants his family to understand him, he wants to spend time with his cousins, most of all he wants someone to hear him DJing as Diablo Diablo on the pirate radio station he is running with Beatriz from inside a box truck.

Daniel is the current Saint of Bicho Raro. He performs the miracles and he sets the pilgrims on their paths to help themselves. Despite his saintliness he is incapable of performing the miracle he needs for himself.

Her family calls Beatriz the girl without feelings, objectively she can’t argue the point. But when unexpected misfortune befalls Bicho Raro, Beatriz will have to reconcile her feelings (or lack thereof) with the logical fact of what she has to do next.

Everyone wants a miracle but when miracles go horribly wrong the residents of Bicho Raro might have to settle for forgiveness instead in All the Crooked Saints (2017) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Set in 1962 when radio waves could be stolen and miracles weren’t quite so shocking, Stiefvater’s latest standalone novel is a story of miracles and magic but also family and forgiveness. An omniscient third person narrator tells the story as Beatriz, Joaquin, and Daniel are drawn into the center of the Soria family’s tumultuous relationship to the miracles and pilgrims who shape so much of the Soria identity.

Pilgrims come to Bicho Raro hoping a miracle can change their life, or maybe their fate. The Soria family changed years ago on a lonely night when a miracle went horribly wrong. The Soria cousins–Beatriz, Joaquin, and Daniel–might be the ones to help right the wrongs of that night. But only if they’re willing to risk changing Bicho Raro and themselves forever.

All the Crooked Saints is an evocative and marvelously told story. Wry humor, unique fantasy elements, friendship, and the fierce power of hope come together here to create an unforgettable story. Not to be missed. Will hold special appeal for readers who enjoy character driven fantasy.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BookExpo 2017*

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The Raven King: A Review

“If you can’t be unafraid, be afraid and happy.”

The Raven King by Maggie StiefvaterGansey has been searching for his lost king for years. In the years after he died–and was brought back–Gansey is certain that finding Glendower is his destiny. Surely, such a quest is what he was saved to complete?

Along the way Gansey’s unlikely friends have joined him in the hunt: Ronan, a dreamer inextricably linked to the ley line and the magic of Cabeswater; Adam, who bargained away his autonomy to become Cabeswater’s magician; Noah, whose grip on his life is becoming more and more tenuous the longer he is dead; and Blue, the girl from a psychic family who is not psychic at all, the girl who is going to kill her true love with a kiss, the girl who loves Gansey.

For months now, Gansey and the rest have been creeping closer. Glendower is almost found. Dreams and nightmares are building. A storm is coming. Every quest has an end, but this time no one knows what they will find when it’s over in The Raven King (2016) by Maggie Stiefvater.

The Raven King is the final book in Stiefvater’s widely acclaimed Raven Boys Cycle. It is preceded by The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. This book should definitely be read in order with the other books in the series and (obviously) has spoilers for the earlier books.

It’s always bittersweet to come to the end of a much-loved series. With characters like Blue and Gansey and Ronan and Adam, it’s especially hard to say goodbye. But The Raven King is the conclusion these characters deserve–possibly even the one they have earned–after everything they’ve survived and accomplished in the rest of the series.

Like the rest of this series, The Raven King is extremely well done with flawless writing and a tight plot. Although some rare readers might find the ending a bit too perfect, this book is also an excellent example of what you have to always trust the author.

The Raven King is a story where all of the characters are hurtling towards very specific goals and destinations only to realize that in the end the destination wasn’t the point at all–it was the journey, it was the people met along the way (particularly when it comes to the new characters introduced here). A completely satisfying conclusion to a stunning and evocative series.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*A copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

The Anatomy of Curiosity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna YovanoffIn an old walk up in Brooklyn, a young woman is hired as a reader and companion for a strange older woman. What starts a job quickly turns into something much more important as Petra learns about context, ladylike behavior, and speaking her mind all while finding an unusual kind of friendship in “Ladylike” by Maggie Stiefvater.

In a faraway land a young soldier works to disarm magical bombs left behind by rebels. The hum of the desert lulls him and the mysterious magician on his team enchants him, but sometimes loving something is hard until you know the truth about yourself in “Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton.

In a town where water is scarce, drowning is a rarity. There are a lot of ways to tell the you about the boy she found drowned in a half inch of water, but there’s only one right story for Jane and the drowning place in “Drowning Variations” by Brenna Yovanoff.

The Anatomy of Curiosity (2015) is the second anthology from authors (and critique partners) Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stievfater and Brenna Yovanoff. In this followup to The Curiosities the focus is more squarely on the mechanics of writing and how ideas can become stories.

For this collection each author wrote a new novella and details their writing process in a preface and margin comments. Between each story all three authors also discuss how they tackled finding critique partners, revision, and managing doubt.

Each author frames their margin comments and notes in the context of their focus when writing. Stiefvater discusses character (how she builds characters and conveys characterization through different aspects of the story), Gratton focuses on world-building (how worlds shape characters and how world-building choices shape the rest of the story), while Yovanoff talks about ideas (getting from the idea she has to the story she wants to tell with a particular project).

It’s worth noting that The Anatomy of Curiosity can be read, first and foremost, as a set of engaging fantasy novellas. As fans of these authors would expect, each novella is well-written and evocative in its own right. In reading the marginalia and supplemental materials, however, readers are treated to not only excellent fiction but also an insider’s view of the creative process from three incredibly talented writers.

The Anatomy of Curiosity is a must-read for aspiring authors and fantasy fans alike.

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2015*

Blue Lily, Lily Blue: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie StiefvaterBlue hasn’t looked back since taking up the strange quest that has consumed four Raven Boys. Since then Gansey, Adam, Noah, and even Ronan, have amazingly become her best friends. What first seemed like disparate priorities and an absurd alliance has since blossomed into the strongest friendship Blue has ever known.

Their friendship isn’t the only thing to have changed since the search started.

Some bonds have strengthened while others have threatened to break. Dreams have offered as much wonder as terror.

And family, it turns out, can mean all kinds of things.

But as Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah come closer and closer to the end of their search all of them have to wonder what will come next. With so much to gain from finding what they are seeking, none of them–maybe especially Blue–has thought hard enough about how much there is to lose in Blue Lily, Lily Blue (2014) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in Stiefvater’s widely acclaimed Raven Boys Cycle. It is preceded by The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves. Although this book is the third in a four book series it works surprisingly well on its own with references to key events in previous books and a larger focus on both old and new characters.

This story picks up about a month after the events of The Dream Thieves.

Stiefvater offers another atmospheric fantasy filled with wry humor and unforgettable characters ranging from the protagonists readers have come to love to antagonists who are indecently likable. Lyrical, spirited prose moves along this character-driven story as we learn more about all of the major (and even some of the minor) players in this tale.

New problems–and losses–ensure that Blue Lily, Lily Blue will stand on its own merit outside of the (many) strengths of the Raven Boys Cycle. This installment also continues to keep the ongoing plot of the series fresh and exciting as nothing in this story is quite what readers will expect.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue also reaffirms the ties between these unlikely friends and the strength that can be found in such powerful bonds. While all of the characters grapple with what they know and do not know, both about themselves and their search, this novel cleverly celebrates the hidden depths to be found in all of their relationships.

This book goes in unexpected directions and circles back to events from the first book in a seamless manner that highlights how carefully this cycle is plotted. While Blue Lily, Lily Blue necessarily leaves unanswered questions it is a satisfying novel that strikes just the right chord between forward plot development and closure for this installment.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher*

The Dream Thieves: A Review

The Dream Thieves by Maggie StiefvaterEverything changed for Blue, Gansey, Ronan and Adam before they ever found Cabeswater. Things changed for Noah long before that.

Now that the ley lines have awakened even more changes are coming to the small town of Henrietta. There will certainly be more moments of wonder; maybe even things coming close to magic. But darker things are also being drawn to the power of the lines.

Ronan always knew that his family was different. He always knew that his dreams were different. Ronan always knew that, in some fundamental ways, he was different.

It wasn’t, after all, everyone who had a pet raven named Chainsaw. Nor was it everyone who acquired such a pet from his own dreams.

As Gansey’s search for Glendower and Cabeswater continues it soon becomes clear that Ronan’s dreams are at the center of their latest puzzle. But with so many people searching and grasping for pieces of Cabeswater, it’s unclear how much will have to be lost before the next piece of the puzzle will be found in The Dream Thieves (2013) by Maggie Stiefvater.

The Dream Thieves is the second book in Stiefvater’s Raven Boys quartet. This book picks up closely after the conclusion of book one, The Raven Boys. While both books are delightful on their own, it’s unlikely readers new to the series will be able to catch up without reading the first installment.

This book focuses much more on Ronan even as Stiefvater continues to delve into the mysteries surrounding Glendower and Gansey’s search. Blue and Gansey have their moments, of course, but it was a pleasant surprise to have the book focus so much on Ronan. (Even more of a surprise to realize how very likable he is as a character.)

Stiefvater’s writing is top-notch as this series continues. The focus on Ronan’s dreams and a new secondary character takes the story in a new direction while Stiefvater’s beautiful prose and familiar characters continue to deliver everything readers will remember with fondness from The Raven Boys.

The Dream Thieves is a perfect blend of skillful storytelling and suspense as tension builds until the final confrontations in the story. Being the second book in a series of four, there are (of course) several questions left by the end of the story including a very surprising ending. That said, Stiefvater delivers everything fans will hope for and expect from her in this novel along with a story that is certain to resonate with readers.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

12 for 2012

It was incredibly hard to pick just twelve books for this list. (Even limiting myself to just 2012 publications was difficult as I read so many wonderful books this year.) My original list included 19 titles–all of which I did really enjoy. But, there can be only twelve (until 2013 anyway!) so, without further ado here are . . .

My Twelve Most Favorite books from 2012 (in alphabetical order):

  1. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken: In addition to being one of my favorite books from 2012, this was also one of my most anticipated. I’m so excited that it’s finally out so everyone can start talking about it with me!
  2. The Diviners by Libba Bray: 1920s mystery/thriller with supernatural elements and romance set in New York City? There was never a chance of this one being less than a favorite for me.
  3. The Selection by Kiera Cass: One of the most surprising books I read this year. I went into it expecting something silly and unsatisfying. I got a nuanced and unlikely blend of The Bachelor TV show and The Hunger Games. I still can’t pinpoint the details but everything about this one just makes me very happy when I think about it.
  4. Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley: Another very anticipated title. Cath Crowley can do no wrong in my view. Filled with references to modern art, musings on love, multiple viewpoints, poetry and such beautiful writing. If I could bottle how I felt after finishing this book, I’d be rich.
  5. Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst: I love Sarah Beth Durst and was so happy to hear about this one. A fantasy with gods and goddesses, storytellers, tricksters, magic and a mysterious journey! And a book that manages to turn the original story upside down without ruining everything and a love rhombus? Trust me, it’s as fabulous as it sounds. (And bonus points for the diverse cast!)
  6. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: As a reader I grew up on high fantasies. With a complex world filled with subtle language and politics (and dragons) all its own, this one fits right in with the fantasies of my childhood. The writing is beautiful and the story is exciting but I think my favorite part was Seraphina’s journey throughout the story as she learned: “We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.”
  7. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers: Regular readers will know of my love affair with Robin’s series for younger readers: Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist. So when I heard she was writing a YA series I was all over it even when the series premise did not sound like my usual fare. (Assasin nuns? In Brittany? In 1485?) I was so wrong to worry. With wild machinations, a protagonist who questions authority and nods to familiar mythology by another name, this one had everything I want in a book.
  8. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: This book (along with #12) are probably the books of BEA 2012. Aside from being much anticipated, this one completely blew me away. A post-apocalyptic retelling of Persuasion with sci-fi elements is bound to be cool. I was so pleasantly surprised when I found it was also simply stunning.
  9. Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan: A gothic tale that flips gender roles, riffs on imaginary friends, and features a plucky girl reporter? And it’s by Sarah Rees Brennan? Enough said.
  10. The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski: I went into this one knowing nothing about the book itself or its author beyond the basics. Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I found a book about parallel universes, alternate history, and family all wrapped up in a wish by the author to write a novel similar to Pride and Prejudice with “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and art as continued motifs. Be still my heart.
  11. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: It’s not The Scorpio Races but very little is. In a lot of ways this is a quiet start to a series but I’m so in for the rest of the quartet and learning more about Blue and Gansey. So. In.
  12. Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin: There are few authors I love as much as Gabrielle Zevin (and not just because she recognizes me at signings sometimes!) and few series that excite me as much as her Birthright books. There is, in fact, so much I like about this series that it’s hard to distill my thoughts on this second installment for my list except to say I love the backdrop almost as much as I appreciate that the series features a romance without being about a romance.

You can also find my list on Pinterest if you want to see all of the lovely covers.

Honorable Mentions (the books that didn’t make my main list but have kept me thinking all year):

  • Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson: This might be the last book I finish in 2012. I put off reading it for a long time because I didn’t know what to expect and I think I was afraid it wouldn’t be what I wanted. But it was everything I wanted. Dimensional and beautiful and so much more than a retelling.
  • Frost by Marianna Baer: This one was a lot of fun and I’m still very sorry it didn’t go all the way in last year’s Cybils. Alas. While it doesn’t quite stand up to a really close reading it is a lot of fun with spooky twists around every corner.
  • The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron: I hardly know where to start with this one. This book completely snuck up on me but with steampunk elements and a Victorian setting it’s not surprising that it became an instant favorite.
  • Fracture by Megan Miranda: Every time I think about giving away my copy I look at the writing and realize I can’t. I loved this one and because of it’s Les Mis references I’ve been thinking about it a lot with all of the Les Miserables movie trailers turning up on TV.
  • Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood: Such a fun read! I’m so excited for the sequel and love seeing Jessica on Twitter. Definitely a deceptive cover for a book with a lot of depth. And feminism! And alternate history!
  • Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg: Eulberg is always aces in my book. Taking this one off my main list was an agonizing decision which is why it needed an honorable mention. In terms of personal moments this was also a big one since I got to interview Elizabeth Eulberg, one of my favorite authors (and imaginary BFF *cough*) about this title–and hopefully it won’t be the last time!
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith: This one was a fun fast read but it really got me thinking. I feel like with lists like this there is always a bias favoring books read later in the year because, well, it’s easier to remember recent reads. That said this is one of the most effervescent books I’ve read (not just in 2012). It also easily has one of my favorite covers of 2012.

Buzzworthy Titles (the ones everyone else is talking about):

  • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore: After having problems with the earlier books in the series, I’m still pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one (and Giddon–though that is probably much less surprising).
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: I still haven’t read it! I know, I know. But every time I try to pick it up I remember at least one character is probably doomed and I just cant do it. Soon.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer: Honestly I read this so long ago I forgot it was a 2012 title! I enjoyed it and I love the attention it’s getting but I’m honestly a bit surprised it had enough staying power to maintain this level of attention from its pub date to the end of the year. Then again, it’s a Cinderella retelling with cyborgs and aliens–why wouldn’t people still be talking about it?!

The Raven Boys: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterBlue’s family trades in predictions that range from the non-specific to, for Blue, the very explicit warning that she will kill her first love.

That’s never been a problem since Blue doesn’t believe in love or much care for boys, particularly the so-called raven boys from the Anglionby school who walk around her small town like they own it.

As the only non-clairvoyant in her family, every year Blue takes down the names of souls she cannot see on the corpse road while her family watches them pass. Every year is the same.

Except this year Blue does see something.

There are only two reasons Blue would see a boy clearly enough on the corpse road to make out the Anglionby crest on his sweater; only two reasons he would tell her his name is Gansey: Blue is either his true love. Or she is going to kill him.

Gansey wears his raven boy persona easily, using his wealth and prestige to get what he wants–and needs–to search for something even his closest friends sometimes doubt is real.

Charming and determined, it’s as easy for Blue to become caught up in his world as it was for Gansey’s other friends: Adam, a scholarship student struggling to navigate Anglionby on his own terms; Ronan, sharp, bitter and determined to keep the world at arm’s length; and Noah, the quiet observer who sees a great many things but shares very little.

As Blue and these improbable raven boys find each other things start changing for them and their small town. Together they could unearth untold magic and power, as long as they can find it first–and control it–in The Raven Boys (2012) by Maggie Stiefvater.

The Raven Boys is the first book in the four book Raven Cycle.

With such varied characters and a sweeping story, it’s hard to summarize or review a book like The Raven Boys. As she did in her Printz honor title The Scorpio Races, Stiefvater once again presents a new world with a fascinating take on mythology that is all its own.

Stiefvater creates a varied cast with characters ranging from calculating to naive, from prickly to endearing–often at the same time. With so many brilliantly dimensional characters it’s hard to pick a favorite, or even a star*, in The Raven Boys as Stiefvater expertly allows each character their chance in the spotlight.

Being the first book in a series there are, of course, unanswered questions at the end of The Raven Boys along with some tantalizing hints of things to come later in the series. While the lack of resolution is frustrating at times, Stiefvater’s characters and intricate writing guarantee readers will want to come back for the next installment in her Raven Cycle.

*That’s a lie. Blue and Gansey are definitely my favorites of all time–I want to be Blue and befriend Gansey. Though in all fairness I really do mean it when I say all of the characters have their moments in this fantastic ensemble cast.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

Exclusive Bonus Content: In case you had any lingering doubts that Maggie is brilliant, be sure to check out the trailer she made for The Raven Boys. And by “made” I mean she did the art, animated it, wrote and performed the music and put the whole thing together.