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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, 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.

The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills: A (Rapid Fire) Review

The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills by Joanna Pearson (2011)

The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills by Joanna PearsonIf Harriet the spy had kept up her notebooks into her teen years and developed an interest in Anthropology (and been moved to North Carolina by her parents) this very well might have been the resulting book. Interspersed with Janice’s anthropological notes and observations, facts, not to mention her letter to the editor of Current Anthropology submitting her latest article (AKA the book) readers find a story of a budding anthropologist, her friends, her enemies, and the Miss Livermush pageant.

While the premise is amusing and Janice’s foibles somewhat endearing, the book was a bit too focused on the Anthropology gimmick. Janice’s focus is singular (to the point of referring to the mean girl bullies and her own circle as “tribes”) and often detracts from the story at hand. While it’s funny and will appeal to fans of Miss Smithers or The Sweetheart of Prosper County, Janice’s chosen interest is not enough to set this book apart.

Hourglass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hourglass by Myra McEntireFor the past four years Emerson Cole has seen strange things–things that shouldn’t be there–Southern Belles, Civil War soldiers, and other apparitions from the past. Without obvious cues from clothing, it’s hard for Emerson to tell if people are part of the here and now or a window from the past; it’s hard for Emerson to convince herself she isn’t losing her mind.

Pills helped. For a while. So did being away from her small Southern hometown at a boarding school where she didn’t need to think about the hallucinations or the loss of her parents. But with her scholarship gone Emerson finds herself back home facing the undesirable prospect of a senior year spent with the people who watched her lose her mind the first time.

Emerson knows she is beyond help, but agrees to one last consultation with a man from an organization called the Hourglass. Her brother, Thomas, assures her this one will be different.

Turns out Thomas was right about that.

Michael Weaver isn’t like the other people who tried to help Emerson. He is good looking and he isn’t much older than Em herself. He listens. He believes her. He doesn’t think she’s crazy at all.

Her past, her future–it all comes back to the Hourglass and her strange connection with Michael. If Emerson can make sense of the secrets and get at the truth about her visions it might change everything for both of them in Hourglass (2011) by Myra McEntire.

Hourglass is McEntire’s first novel.

Emerson’s narration is crisp and frank. McEntire has created a heroine here who is endearing, sharp, and quite entertaining. More importantly, Emerson is a survivor–even at her lowest and most damaged she remains strong. And Michael is a male lead who can match her par for par (sometimes literally).

Hourglass is sweeping, urgent and filled with extremely dramatic twists and turns. As much as this story is romantic and a fantasy it’s also a page-turner with a few surprises and a lot of suspense. Hourglass is an irresistible debut that resolves beautifully but also promises more stories about Emerson and her world.

You can also read my exclusive interview with Myra McEntire.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Malice by Pintip Dunn, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Clarity by Kim Harrington, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, All Out Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West

Exclusive Bonus Content: How cool is that cover? I love it because it nods to a dress Emerson wears early on in the story while capturing the topsy turvy nature of her relationship with her visions. It’s one of the coolest covers I’ve seen on a 2011 debut. Props to cover designer Alison Klapthor and Lissy Laricchia who took the cover photo. Nicely done.

Graveminder: A Review

Graveminder by Melissa MarrClaysville is a small town that keeps itself to itself. Very few people leave and those that do always find their way back.

Byron Montgomery thought he could leave Claysville behind but nowhere else is quite the same. Nowhere else is home. So he comes back to work with his father, the local undertaker.

Rebekkah Barrow only lived in Claysville for a few years but it’s the closest thing she has to a home. When her grandmother Maylene is killed, Bek knows it’s time to go home. Even if nothing about Claysville should feel like home without Maylene.

Seeing each other for the first time in years Rebekkah and Byron learn together that Claysville isn’t a normal small town, Byron’s father is more than the local undertaker, and Maylene may have had her reasons for attending every town funeral–reasons that had nothing to do with being eccentric and everything to do with keeping Claysville safe.

Maylene told Rebekkah everything she needs to know. Byron is ready to follow in his father’s footsteps. Together will they be able to put everything right in Claysville before it’s too late in Graveminder (2011) by Melissa Marr.

This is Melissa Marr’s first novel that is not young adult. She is also the author of the Wicked Lovely series.

I should preface my thoughts by saying I haven’t read any of Marr’s other books. I am also not a fan of zombies (I’m on Team Unicorn).

Graveminder has all the makings of a really great story: a generations old curse, a small town, lots of secrets. The idea is clever and intriguing. The characters are varied and interesting. But all of that never gels together to make a cohesive book.

First and foremost, the story is too slow to get to the point. Marr throws readers right into the action with a promising prologue. Only to leave readers hanging until page 100 (of the Advanced Reader’s Copy I read) to receive any kind of explanation about what is going on in Claysville and what role the Barrow and Montgomery families play in it. There is a fine balance between informing a reader and keeping a character in the dark until a key moment. Graveminder did not achieve that balance.

The other, bigger, problem with Graveminder is that Rebekkah is the protagonist of the story (the narrative viewpoint shifts between different characters with the bulk belonging to Byron and Rebekkah). She is important and vital and she is in many ways a hero in the plot. But she never feels real. Instead she comes across as one dimensional as if some important piece is missing. Byron is slightly better as a character (to be fair he is not bogged down with grief the way Rebekkah is at the beginning) but his unfailing devotion to Bek never feels quite realistic between her constantly pushing him away and his even more constant devotion.

Graveminder is an interesting addition to the world of American Gothics. Marr offers a unique premise and an original take on death, among other things. Unfortunately it just isn’t quite as fantastic as I was hoping it would be.

Possible Pairings: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, Zombies Vs. Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

The Demon Trapper’s Daughter: A(n Excited!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Demon Trapper's Daughter by Jana OliverIt’s 2018 and the city of Atlanta is going to Hell. The economy is in shambles, the city is practically bankrupt, and Lucifer’s demons are everywhere. Angels wander the streets but they keep a low profile and tend to stay in the background.

Demons have no such scruples. Whether it’s a Biblio, a Magpie, or one of the Geofiends there is no forgetting that things are bad and on their way to worse.

Especially for seventeen-year-old Riley Blackthorne. An apprentice demon trapper learning the ropes from her father, Riley already sticks out as the only girl apprentice in the local demon trapper’s guild. When she botches a routine trapping, that’s bad. When her father is killed and Riley is left on her own, that’s a whole lot worse.

Riley is alone in a hostile city. There are some in the guild eager to see her fail. There are some, like really cute fellow apprentice Simon Adler, who want to help. Denver Beck, her father’s trapping partner and a near constant annoyance to Riley, wants nothing more than to run her life. At least, sometimes he does. Sometimes he just wants to be nice to her. It’s confusing.

Either way, Riley doesn’t want help. She wants to get by on her own and prove herself.

In a city where the demons know your name and the old rules are changing, working alone might get Riley killed. Or worse in The Demon Trapper’s Daughter* (2011) by Jana Oliver.

There is a lot to love about The Demon Trapper’s Daughter. Jana Oliver takes the old conventions about demons and demon hunting and  turns them upside down in this dynamic start to what promises to be a thrilling series. Oliver’s world building is phenomenal. Riley and the other characters, particularly Beck, jump off  the page in an evocative story where readers will smell the brimstone and feel the swipe of every demonic claw.

The story is written in the third person and alternates between Riley and Beck’s viewpoints. The one weak point in the writing are the italicized thoughts interspersed throughout the narrative which are a bit jarring–particularly Beck’s since his are written in the vernacular to convey his Georgia accent. Riley can be a frustrating protagonist especially with her low opinion of (the obviously awesome) Denver Beck. But Beck is just as stubborn. By the end of the story the two balance out even though they might not see it that way.

There are a lot of urban fantasies out there. There are a lot of books about demons. There are a lot of books about a young woman trying to prove herself. This book is all three. Gritty, funny, and exciting The Demon Trapper’s Daughter is a charmer with equal parts action and heart. Highly recommended.

*This book is also called The Demon Trappers: Forsaken–that’s the title for the UK edition. Thanks to the author, Jana G. Oliver, for commenting on the review I posted on Amazon to confirm this information! (I prefer The Demon Trapper’s Daughter as it points more to the crux of the story. Either way, this is the first book in The Demon Trappers series.)

Possible Pairings: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Exclusive Bonus Content: Did you catch by now that I have a ridiculous literary crush on Denver Beck? Seriously, he’s awesome. I can’t even tell you how awesome he is because it gets too far into plot details but I expect him to play a BIG role in the rest of the series (and hopefully not die tragically because that would make me sad). In all seriousness (no really) Denver Beck joins Tom Imura, Alan Ryves and Tucker Avery in the very exclusive Literary Guys I Wish Were Real Club.

Also, if I had a club for Book Covers I Love this one would definitely be in it. I think it not only captures the essence of the book but also the essence of Riley as a character in a weird way. I read this book as an arc so, tragically, I do not have information on the who designed this delightful cover.

Beautiful Creatures: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret StohlOnly two kinds of people live in Gatlin, South Carolina: the stupid and the stuck. The others move on to better places. The Wates live there because they always have. They live there even though recent years have brought the family more bad memories than good.

Ethan Wate isn’t stupid and he has no intention of being stuck. Gatlin isn’t a complicated place. The neighbors keep watch from their porches in the unbearable heat, but nothing ever changes because there are no surprises in Gatlin County–the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.

At least, that’s how it seems to Ethan the night before starting his sophomore year at Stonewall Jackson High.

Turns out he couldn’t have been more wrong.

There was a curse. There was a girl. And in the end, there was a grave.

Ethan never saw it coming in Beautiful Creatures (2009) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Change is in the air when Lena Duchannes arrives in town. Ethan is inexplicably drawn to the beautiful outcast, but nothing with Lena is straightforward. As Ethan gets to know the mysterious new girl they begin to unearth ages old secrets that could change everything for them and Gatlin County.

I’m not a big fan of Twilight (long story) and Swoon left me cold. But I finally get how the hardcore fans of those books feel because I feel the same way about Beautiful Creatures. Part gothic novel, part modern fantasy this book has everything a reader could hope for.

Garcia and Stohl have created an intricate and compelling story. Even at over 500 pages (hardcover),  this book is a page-turner. Ethan’s narration is honest and captures both the charm and horror of life in a rural Southern town.

Beautiful Creatures is also an utterly original and unforgettable book filled with haunting characters, excitement, and even some romance. The worst thing about finishing it is knowing there will be a wait for the sequel.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Sea Change by Aimee Friedman, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Lirael by Garth Nix, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

An Abundance of Katherines: a review

An Abundance of Katherines by John GreenPicture this: You used to be a childhood prodigy. Member of an academic game team. You excelled in school. You were special. You met a girl named Katherine and the two of you started dating.

Then she dumps you.

Then eighteen more girls named Katherine dump you.

Suddenly, you’re a teenager with no claim to fame except for your former status as a prodigy. No new ideas. No girl. No plans for the summer excepting wasting away in your room and moping.

This is not your life. But it is Colin Singleton’s life immediately after his graduation from high school.

Given Colin’s history with girls, you might not be surprised that John Green chose to name his second novel An Abundance of Katherines (2006)–a title that proves itself even more apt as the novel progresses.

After sulking for several days after being dumped (again), Colin is dragged out of his room by Hasan, his best friend. Hassan is confident that the only cure for Colin’s depression is a road trip. So Colin and his Judge-Judy-loving, overweight, Muslim pal head off for the great beyond that is the United States between the coasts. Their road trip stops in Gutshot, Tennessee. But the adventures don’t. Hired by a local bigwig to compile an oral history of Gutshot, Colin and Hassan find themselves staying with Hollis and her daughter, Lindsey. It is in Gutshot that Colin finally has what he has always wanted, a truly original idea. Thus, Colin begins to create a theorem of love in his attempt to understand his own rocky love life.

Most of my friends who have read this book and Green’s first novel Looking for Alaska agree that his second novel is not as compelling a read. Having only read “Katherines,” I cannot make a judgment one way or the other. What I can say is that I loved the style of this book. There has been a growing trend to use footnotes in novels–notable examples include The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Johnathan Stroud, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels, and Ibid A Life by Mark Dunn which is a novel written entirely of endnotes. Green continues that tradition here to good effect.

The tone throughout is quirky, nerdy, and generally fun. I don’t know that reading this novel will change any lives, but it will certainly get a lot of laughs. The best parts are, undoubtedly, the dialogues between Hassan and Colin. The guys are just so likable! In addition, Green’s writing is snappy–all the better to keep the laughs coming.

Some readers might find the name John Green familiar although they cannot say why. This year John and his brother Hank have earned a good amount of notoriety on the internet for their Brotherhood 2.0 vlog project (available on YouTube) in which the brothers send videos back and forth each weekday in lieu of text conversation (if you’re curious be sure to check out the Feb. 14, 2007 post because it’s my favorite). They are really funny and seeing John Green and his brother in these vlogs makes it easy to see how Green came up with the idea for Colin Singleton.

Like Nothing but the Truth by Justina Chen Headley, this book includes a bit of math. The “real” math behind Colin’s theorem appears in the back of the book in an appendix and Green even has a website where you can use the theorem for your own relationships (if it doesn’t crash your computer). Despite all of that, Green is a self-proclaimed lost cause when it comes to math. (The theorem was drafted by friend (and “resident mathematician” for Brotherhood 2.0), Daniel Biss.) I wanted to share this for a couple of reasons. First, because I think it’s great that Green is writing outside of what some might call his “comfort zone” and, second, because it should illustrate that you don’t have to like math to enjoy a book that features a lot of math.

Anyway, if you need a cheerful book with some fun, lovable characters I don’t think you can do better than this book which was recently nominated for the LA Times Book Award in addition to being selected as a Printz Award honor book.

Possible Pairings: Ibid A Life by Mark Dunn, Boys Don’t Knit by T. S. Easton, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen Headley, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, Frankly in Love by David Yoon