Joint Review: “The Dream Thieves”

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This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we review the second in the series, “The Dream Thieves.”

Book: “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, September 2013

Where Did We Get This Book: Both got the audiobook from the library!

Book Description: If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?

Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.

One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.

And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.

Ronan is one of the raven boys—a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface—changing everything in its wake.

Of The Raven Boys, Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Maggie Stiefvater’s can’t-put-it-down paranormal adventure will leave you clamoring for book two.” Now the second book is here, with the same wild imagination, dark romance, and heart-stopping twists that only Maggie Stiefvater can conjure.

Kate’s Thoughts:

After reading “The Raven Boys” I wasn’t in the biggest rush to read “The Dream Thieves”. It wasn’t that I didn’t like “The Raven Boys”, because I did. But I wasn’t absolutely entranced by it, as while it was supernatural and supposed to be creepy, it didn’t quite live up to my probably unfair and impossible standards. But then I was looking at the audiobook selection from the library, and I saw that “The Dream Thieves” was available. And not only was “The Dream Thieves” available, my absolutely favorite audiobook reader, Will Patton, was the one who was reading it. So that clinched it. It was on.

So I don’t know if it was the Patton factor or what, but I ended up enjoying “The Dream Thieves” more than I did “The Raven Boys”. Okay, no, I take that back. It wasn’t the Patton factor, as potent and aggressive as that may be. It was because this book focused on Ronan Lynch, my favorite Raven Boy. Ronan is angry and brooding and emotionally unstable, so of COURSE I can’t help but love him to bits. And in this book not only is he given the spotlight, his personality and back story is explored quite a bit, so we get to see why he is so volatile and angry. We find out more about Ronan’s abilities in this book specifically the fact that he can pull objects and beings out of his dreams. Now that Cabeswater’s ley lines have been fully awakened, this ability has become more powerful. He’s taking not only objects out of his dreams, but creatures as well, creatures that aren’t exactly friendly. Along with this he is still affected and traumatized by the murder of his father, a tragedy that has connections to the present day situation with Glendower and the ley line, and to the fact that his mother has been comatose since. So as far as I’m concerned, Ronan has earned any and all of the angst that he’s showing. Along with the angst we got to see a softer side of him as well, not only with his younger brother Matthew, but also with Adam Parrish. Because Ronan is secretly in love with Adam. Which, of course, made me squee like an idiot. Seeing Ronan struggle with his past, his feelings, and his abilities were wonderful explorations.

Ronan wasn’t the only character to be explored more in depth in this book. We also got to see more of Adam and his own connection to the Ley Line and Cabeswater. Adam has always felt inferior to his group of friends because of their wealth and privilege, a fact that has never really been made easier by Gansey, whose good intentions are received as condescending more than kind. Adam is convinced that Gansey pities him and will hold his generosity over his head, and their relationship is heavily strained because of this. And to heap on the baggage afforded to Adam this time around, Blue, realizing she doesn’t share his feelings, dumps him. Sad for Adam. But AWESOME for me! I was worried that we were going to be subjected to this tired and annoying trope for the entire series, but NOT SO!

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Words cannot express the joy. (source)

But Adam’s worth, perhaps unseen by him, becomes far more clear in this book. Noah is a ghost. Ronan is a Dream Weaver. And Adam seems to be a little bit psychic. Which super, super intrigued me going further into this series. That, and the feelings that Ronan has for him. Really for me, “The Dream Thieves” was all about Ronan and Adam.

AHHH, and the psychic women that live with Blue, but I feel like I’ve rambled enough. Just know that Maura, Calla, Persephone, and Orla also get stuff to do in this book, and that they also get depth. Noah gets depth too, and his relationship with Blue gets a very sweet aspect to it. Let’s just say that ghosts don’t need to worry about dying if a girl whose kiss is prophetically deadly kisses them. I loved it. I loved so much about this book.

“The Dream Thieves” was the book that got me fully invested in “The Raven Cycle.” It’s blend of fantasy, the supernatural, and teenage suds makes it a super fun book and really gave the series the oomph I was looking for.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I second everything that Kate said, so I will try and discuss different points than the ones that she has already covered.

First off, the fantasy element is given a big injection of adrenaline in this book. While bits were sprinkled around quite nicely in the first book, that initial groundwork pays off big in this book. Magic is suddenly more than just a mysterious forest that appeared in the countryside. It’s alive and walking around in both Ronan and Adam. Ronan’s dreamer-abilities are so astounding and seemingly limitless. While also completely terrifying, which saves it from feeling like a magical “get out of jail free” card for any future problems. And Adam’s connection with Cabeswater is more complicated than it had at first seemed.

I’ll discuss Adam mostly, since Kate covered Ronan for the both of us. Oh, poor sweet Adam. Nothing is easy for him in this book. His hasty deal with Cabeswater comes with more strings attached then he had expected. And I loved the parallels that were drawn between the darkness that was imposed on this connection because of a lack of understanding on Adam’s part of what exactly it was that he agreed to. Looking life in the eye, looking one’s own flaws in the eye, and finding that clear-eyed honesty, while terrifying, is important to growth. Adam’s personal history is tragic, and I appreciated the honesty with regards to the effects that this would have on Adam’s life and ability to form healthy relationships around himself. His friendship with Gansey is pushed right to the breaking point and made me want to cry for them both. They were both just TRYING SO HARD and still not able to truly communicate their feelings.

And, importantly, while it is noted that nothing that had happened in Adam’s family life was his own fault or deserved or in any way not awful, I appreciated the fact that Adam wasn’t let off the hook for his own bad behavior. It’s completely understandable why he is the way he is, but Blue’s reaction to him behaving very poorly was so appropriate and something that Adam needed to go through to really gain self acceptance (not that he’s there yet, but there were steps).

This tied into my concern from the first book about the love triangle. There is no love triangle! Thank heavens. Just a natural, teen romance where you can fall equally out of interest as you did in, and that’s all ok. Blue is sad that she doesn’t feel as Adam does, but she’s honest with herself and, eventually, with him as well. There’s no dramatics, other than usual heartbreak, and both determine that their short lived romance can be turned into friendship with a little work. And Blue doesn’t suddenly fall head over heels for Gansey either. It is clear that they are both becoming more aware of their own feelings, and, in Blue’s case at least, this comes with a lot of adjustment needing to be made to her original judgements.

I also can’t end this review without mentioning Kavinski. Want to talk about a complicated, heart breaking story? Ronan’s angst and inner struggles are so perfectly paired against this completely new character (can I just say how impressed I am by Stiefvater’s abilities to manage so many characters and give them all so much depth in so few pages??). Kavinski is what Ronan could so easily have been without his friends and it is heartbreaking. Even as Kavinski spirals out of control, you can’t help but feel a deep ache for him.

I was already enjoying this series with “The Raven Boys,” but this book really sealed the deal for me!

Kate’s Rating 8: All of the characters are back and better than ever, and Ronan gets some back story and some delicious brooding time and cool magic. A great fantasy read.

Serena’s Rating 8: Very strong second showing. The fantasy elements were great, and the increased focus on complicated character like Ronan and Adam was appreciated.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Dream Thieves” at your local library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews: “The Raven Boys”

Joint Review: “The Raven Boys”

The Raven Boys

This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we start with the first book in the series, “The Raven Boys.”

Book: “The Raven Boys” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, September 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: Serena got the audio book from the library, and Kate got the print version from the library.

Book Description: Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, 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 is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher 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 doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I had heard a lot about this series before I started the first book. All three of the first books were already published and raved about. So, I was nervous. I’ve been burned by the YA hype machine in the past. Further, I had read “Shiver” a few years ago, and while I thought the writing was lovely, I wasn’t overly impressed by yet another werewolf love story, even if the fantasy elements were more creative than one typically finds in the tried and true genre of werewolf romance! But, color me surprised! “The Raven Boys” was a very enjoyable reading experience!

One assumption I made from reading the jacket description and from previous experience with young adult fantasy fiction was that this was going to be Blue’s story. Blue’s perspective. Blue’s thoughts and feelings. I was surprised and so pleased to find that it was more than that. The concept of the story felt like it was primed for a “special snowflake” character basking in the attention of a bunch of boys. But instead we have Blue as only one of several characters who have formed deep and complicated friendships with one another. Indeed, Blue is the most recent addition, so in this book the friendships between Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah were the deeper and more interesting relationships, with Blue’s “new comer” status serving as a portal into this world for the reader.

Adam and Gansey have a particularly trying relationship and there were several moments when I just wanted to bang their heads together. But this reflects Stiefvater’s success to not only depict a realistic male friendship, one that is challenged by the strong personalities and differing perspectives of each member, but also of the real and deep seeded effects of privilege and how formative unique life experiences are on the way that individuals approach life and decision making. Kate talks about this a bit more, but I was really impressed by the careful and very true handling of many hard subjects.

And, impressively, I wasn’t overly bothered by what seemed to be the set up for a love triangle. Maybe it was the absence of the hyperbolic language that usually accompanies this trope. The girl is always “torn” between “two great loves” and “oh my, what can she do she just can’t pick they’re both so hawttttt!” This is a much more honest approach to teen relationships. Boy meets girl. Maybe they’re interested. Maybe they’re not. They’re not quite sure. Let’s maybe see? Still, though, finishing the book, I wasn’t convinced that this element added to the book, necessarily. Sure, it didn’t detract from it in the way I typically expect, but it also wasn’t making headway in any direction that felt necessary. I was curious and a bit apprehensive for how this would be resolved going forward.

While the fantasy was light in this book, I enjoyed what we had of it. If anything, the light sprinkling of details made these fantastical elements feel as if they were knitted into a “real world” setting in a much more believable way than other examples I can think of where BAM magic arrives!

I also listened to this as an audio book and I can’t rave enough about the reader Will Patton. He is by far the best reader I’ve come across in my forays into audiobook. He commits so fully to the reading, varies is voice expertly for all the different characters ( to the point where I could tell from the first sentence of each chapter whose perspective it was from simply by the adjusted cadence to Patton’s voice), and slows/speeds/emotes/ in line with what is happening in the story. I honestly worry that I loved this book more than I would have reading it simply on the grounds that his narration was so amazing.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I picked up the print version of “The Raven Boys” a couple years ago as part of my stack for a vacation. I have fond memories of reading this book, about ghosts and the supernatural and other spooky themes, while staying in a supposedly haunted hotel room in America’s Most Haunted City (aka, Savannah, Georgia). Because how appropriate, right?! While reading this book, however, I remember not being as impressed by it as I had hoped I would be. I really liked the characters as they were presented to us, and I liked the idea of Blue’s psychic family and her ability to feed psychics as her power. I just didn’t find the central conflict in this one very intriguing. The main villain didn’t do much for me, and even though I liked the lay line storyline, I wasn’t totally sold. What sells me about this book is Blue, her household, and her Raven Boys. I’m someone who has always gravitated towards platonic male friendships ever since I was a small girl, and therefore seeing Blue’s friendships with Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah really resonated with me.

I also really liked how well thought out the town of Henrietta was in this book. Stiefvater did a very good job of making a fictional small town community, with the ups and downs that a small town community has. The age old conflict between the privileged students of the local school and the townies is very present in this book, and the reader can understand both sides that these characters are coming from. I especially like how naively good Gansey is when it comes to Adam, who is a student at the school on scholarship but lives in a poverty stricken and abusive household. Gansey sees Adam as his best friend, but there will always be that conflict there because of the class divide. I also find it very realistic that while Blue and Gansey are very clearly drawn to each other in this book, that class thing is there for them as well, which in turn makes her feel more comfortable with Adam. Can you say ‘love triangle’?

That was another big problem I had with this book, outside of the weaker supernatural plot. I am totally sick of seeing love triangles in YA fiction. It is so overdone and it is a lazy way to add conflict. I was none too happy to see that this trope was being trotted out again in a book that otherwise had some really lovely platonic interactions between Blue and all of her Raven Boys.

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(source)

I actually think that “The Raven Boys” is, for me, the weakest in the series. Stiefvater did a lot with the characters since the beginning, and their growth is evident.

Serena’s Rating 7: Great start to a series, appropriately laying the ground work, though the romantic angle was questionable.

Kate’s Rating 7: Lovely characters and a great setting made for a good start, though the main conflict of the story did not interest me as much as I’d hoped it would.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Raven Boys” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Rose and the Dagger”

23308084Book: “The Rose and the Dagger” by Renee Andieh

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad is forced from the arms of her beloved husband, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once thought Khalid a monster—a merciless killer of wives, responsible for immeasurable heartache and pain—but as she unraveled his secrets, she found instead an extraordinary man and a love she could not deny. Still, a curse threatens to keep Shazi and Khalid apart forever.

Now she’s reunited with her family, who have found refuge in the desert, where a deadly force is gathering against Khalid—a force set on destroying his empire and commanded by Shazi’s spurned childhood sweetheart. Trapped between loyalties to those she loves, the only thing Shazi can do is act. Using the burgeoning magic within her as a guide, she strikes out on her own to end both this terrible curse and the brewing war once and for all. But to do it, she must evade enemies of her own to stay alive.

Review: I picked up this book right on the heels of finishing the first, and while I enjoyed the first one for the most part, I was almost more intrigued by this sequel because it wouldn’t be that. The “retelling” of “A Thousand and One Nights” had been thoroughly wrapped up in the first book, so endless opportunities were spread before this one. And the cliffhanger left some good room for growth. For the most part, I think this succeeds, though it does get bogged down by the trappings of the first book.

Originality played highly in this book’s favor. Freed from the original trappings of serving as a retelling, the author had room to take world-building and character growth in her own directions, and for me, this really succeeded. While before the story was trapped largely within the confines of the palace in Rey, here Shazi has been released on the greater world and new and exciting destinations come with it. And alongside these fantastical new settings, adventures followed.

In fact, I would classify this book as an adventure story, first and foremost. Its predecessor was largely a romance, and the hints of a love triangle made me nervous for this book’s direction. Gladly, these worries were unnecessary. The romance served as motivation and fuel to the fire of Shazi’s attempts to end the curse, but it is a matured romance that is steady and sure of itself. No needless wavering or second-guessing.

I also really enjoyed the nods to Aladdin in this book. The scenes with the magic carpet were beautiful and obviously made me want one for myself. And the inclusion of a genie-like character was inspired, most especially given the well-rounded characterization that is applied in the relatively short amount of page time that is devoted to the character.

There were a few downsides, however. While I enjoyed the increased time that was spent from Shazi’s sister’s perspective, there was also a rushed romance here that felt unnecessary. Irsa’s journey was one of self-discovery. As a character who had spent a life time comparing herself unfavorably to her fire-y and strong sister, Irsa’s path to self-acceptance and appreciation for her own unique talents was one that I believe would speak to many readers. No need to add in the distraction of a burgeoning love. It felt like this was inserted purely to compensate for the fact that Shazi and Khalid’s own love story was past the “discovery” phase, and the author worried that more romance was needed. Unfortunately, I feel that this addition was a disservice to both Shazi’s and Irsa’s story. It was refreshing to read a series where the primary romance progressed in a normal manner, from new love to steady love, and the addition of a love interest to Irsa’s own tale distracted from the more interesting story of personal growth.

The other small niggle I had with this book was the inclusion of stories-within-stories. I listed this as part of the reason I enjoyed the first book, and given the fact that its a retelling of “A Thousand and One Nights,” it plays a large and natural role within the narrative. That’s all well and good. Unfortunately, this book isn’t that. The adventure and more action-packed nature of the story doesn’t serve as a natural vehicle for the insertion of shorter tales. While I understand that the author was attempting to highlight the importance of story-telling and reinforce what made Shazi so special to begin with, the addition of a few of these tales were more distracting than anything else. I wish the author had felt more comfortable letting her previous work stand for itself and allowed this book to be its own thing as well.

Overall, however, this book was a solid conclusion to the series. Characterization, over all plot progression, and the new additions to the story all served to fully round out the duology. For fans of retellings, or readers looking for a fantasy story set in a non-European setting, I highly recommend this book and series!

Rating 6: A solid conclusion, if a little undermined by trying to be too similar to the first book.

Reader’s Advisory:

 

 

 

 

 

Kate’s Rev-Up Review: “Mr. Mercedes”

18775247Book: “Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, June 2014

Where Did I Get This Book?: Audiobook from the library!

Description: In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.

Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.

Review: One of the best things to take with me on vacation is a big ol’ stack of books. And even though I almost never get through as large a stack as I think I’m going to (what with vacation having lots of distractions), I usually get through at least two. This las vacation I brought “End of Watch”, the last in a trilogy by Stephen King, and given that it was a thriller I thought that I would just write up a review and call it a day. But then I remembered that I had read books 1 and 2 before Serena and I started this blog. So, taking a page out of the Book of Serena, I am going to review the first two books in the Bill Hodges Trilogy before I tackled the third (with spoilers abound). So that means we are going waaaaay back to when I read “Mr. Mercedes” last year.

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And cue wavy lines, and flashback music, and…. (source)

When we start “Mr. Mercedes”, King paints a very bleak picture of a blue collar town in the midst of the most recent recession. King has always done a very good job of depicting the darker side of small town life, and while our setting isn’t exactly small, the feelings of class divides and suburban vs urban are in full swing, even though almost everyone is hurting financially. That is possibly just adding salt to the wound that is the Mr. Mercedes massacre that opens this book. A bunch of people are lined up outside of the town civic center, waiting for hte doors of a job fair to open. While there are a limited number of jobs to be found inside, hundreds upon hundreds of desperate people are hoping that this is their chance…. only to be mowed down by a maniac in a stolen Mercedes. Going into the book I thought that perhaps this was going to be like many other noir detective stories, with our private investigator (in this case retired detective Bill Hodges) solving the puzzle with us only seeing his perspective.

But then King went and overturned my expectations, because almost immediately we got to see into the life and mind of Mr. Mercedes himself, Brady Hartsfield. This is the kind of guy that kills a bunch of innocent people just for funsies, and then tries to goad a retired detective into suicide by sending him a nasty little letter mocking the fact that he never found him. He works at a floundering discount electronics store, and as an ice cream truck driver, using the latter occupation to spy on Hodges. He’s basically the worst, and he is also one of the best damn things about the book. I love that we got to see into the very nastiness and awfulness of his mind, and King presented his background and home life in such a vivid and horrific way that the reader gets to see why he was the way he was, but not once feels at all bad for him. Brady Hartsfield was certainly a created monstrosity, but that’s no excuse. He is a villain that makes your skin crawl and sets your teeth on edge, as only King can write them.

And then there is Bill Hodges. He’s overweight, he’s cynical as all get out, and he fits the hard boiled detective model pretty handily. He is working outside of the law in a way, he has a spunky sidekick (in that of Jerome Robinson, a neighborhood teen who mows Hodges’ lawn for him), and even gets to start up an affair with a comely client, Janey. Janey is the sister of Olivia Trelawney, whose Mercedes was stolen and used as a weapon. Olivia was hammered pretty hard by Hodges and his partner Pete while they were on the case (as they thought she must have left her car unlocked and made it available to the murderer), and Olivia eventually killed herself out of guilt. Janey hires Hodges in hopes of clearing her sister’s name. All pretty standard tropes, really….. But then King takes those tropes and tosses them out the window. Hodges is outside the law but maintains a pleasant relationship with his former partner, Pete. Jerome is not only young and spunky, he’s also incredibly computer savvy. And after tragedy befalls Janey, King paves the way for Holly Gibney to enter the fray, who is the true hero of this entire series, in my very honest opinion.

I need to gush about Holly and how much I love her. She is introduced as the cousin of Olivia and Janey, seen as perhaps just a strange and awkward relative who is just one of a number of strange and awkward relatives (though the others are certainly more on the unpleasant side). Holly is nervous, anxiety ridden, and it is implied that she is somewhere on the Autism/Asperger’s spectrum as well. But when her cousin is killed, she steps up to the plate and demands that she is allowed to help find the man who has brought so much pain to her family, and that of many families. King writes Holly in a sensitive and delicate way, not making her just the perfect ‘savant’ stereotype that may have been tempting. Holly is very skilled but she is also very troubled, and seeing Hodges and Jerome interact with her and come to understand her was one of the best character progressions that I have seen come out of a book by King.

Watching all these three of these neat characters try to piece together the clues and hunt for Brady, all while seeing Brady plan and plot a few steps ahead of them, made for a very tense and satisfying read. King sets out the clues and the evidence for Hodges to solve, lets the readers solve some of it first, but then keeps on surprising us just as much as Brady surprises Hodges. There were times in the car that I was yelling out in fear and nervousness over how things were going to play out, which to me shows that the writer has done his job. There were a few things that kind of felt a bit convenient in terms of how conclusions were drawn or how situations came out, which didn’t really surprise me because King has been known to be somewhat guilty of deus ex machinas in his stories. This is both frustrating in that I wish he would just stop it, but at the same time it’s just something I’ve come to accept of him and his stories.

I should also mention that this is an audiobook that is read by the absolutely FABULOUS Will Patton, an actor whom you would recognize if you saw him but may not be familiar with by name only. You probably best know him as the Other Coach from “Remember the Titans”.

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I mean Denzel outshines everyone but you know this guy. (source)

He is hands down my favorite audiobook narrator in the business, as he has this amazing knack for making his voice change ever so slightly for every character’s perspective. For having kind of a gruff voice, he’s great at voicing all characters. Will Patton is the best. It is known.

“Mr. Mercedes” is a very well written thriller. For thriller fans who may not like horror novels or scary stories, this may be a good way to see what King has to offer. It is a great start to a solid trilogy.

Rating 8: A very tense and creepy thriller, with lots of great characters. King takes the noir novel and makes it his own.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Mr. Mercedes” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best of Stephen King from the 21st Century”, and “Books that Make You Stay Up Too Late”.

Find “Mr. Mercedes” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Wrath and the Dawn”

18798983Book: “The Wrath & the Dawn” by Renee Andieh

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, May 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: One Life to One Dawn.

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Review: Fairy tale retellings have been enjoying quite their moment in the sun over the last few years in the young adult publishing industry. And while they are some of my favorite stories to read, I’ve also about reached my saturation point for the number of ways you can try to make the prince character in a version of “Cinderella” actually interesting. So, I was very excited when I ran across this book and discovered it not to be yet another common fairy tale exploiting a craze but instead a story inspired by “A Thousand and One Nights.” I mean, I dressed up as Scheherazade as a kid for Halloween once, so obviously I was going to read this immediately. And, for the most part, it’s a pretty solid entry.

It’s hard to review this while also gauging my reaction based on whether or not I appreciated this book for what it was actually doing or because I was just so thrilled it was doing something different from the many other retellings. A big question with these is whether or not it differs enough from the original story. And this sort of did? The basic premise is still there. King kills wives each morning, woman sets out to avenge her friend who was a victim of this madness, woman staves off the axe via elaborate and strategic story-telling. And Shahrzad embodied many of the traits of the original character: spunk, bravery, and sheer stubbornness to see this mad plan through.

Unfortunately, because it is a novel and not a fairy tale, the book also fell victim to its premise. In the fairy tale, it’s very easy to spin this type of tale and escape relating the details or inconsistencies, especially using common story telling lines like “Another morning dawned. Another day passed. And Scheherazade continued to enchant her king husband.” That’s sweet and poetic and moving forward along those lines, it’s easy enough to set up your happy ending. With this? Not as much. There’s no way, even with the most sympathetic king character to not make Shahrzad’s transition from “revenge driven murderess in the making” to “love stricken girl who thinks maybe, yeah, he’s not that bad” seem less then believable and make her, as a character, highly questionable. All that said? I think the author did the best she could with this set up. I mean, it’s a crazy story to begin with, so going in, there has to be some forgiveness for the madness of the whole set up.

Other than this, the writing and scene-setting was beautiful. Again, maybe it’s because we don’t see a lot of settings like this in YA fantasy books nowadays, but the descriptions of the desert and lifestyle were beautiful and fresh. I also liked the inclusion of the stories that Shahrzad told each night. It would have been easy to just use a cheat, maybe tell one story, and then sweep the remaining nights under the rug. But the tales themselves were interesting and fun. Your mileage with this may vary, however, as the stories can also read as long breaks in the actual narrative of the book itself.

One other big detractor: a love triangle.

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(Source)

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. It’s the first in a duology (praise be, not a trilogy or, heaven forbid, a series…) So, I’m moving directly on to the next and should have a review of that up soon! This story pretty much wrapped up the retelling part from the original, which leaves the next with completely new content. We’ll see how it goes!

Rating 7: Good retelling, but fell into some common pitfalls.

Reader’s Advisory:

Kate’s Reviews: “Ink and Bone”

27276336Book: “Ink and Bone” by Lisa Unger

Publishing Info: Touchstone, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Twenty-year-old Finley Montgomery is rarely alone. Visited by people whom others can’t see and haunted by prophetic dreams, she has never been able to control or understand the things that happen to her. When Finley’s abilities start to become too strong for her to handle – and even the roar of her motorcycle or another dazzling tattoo can’t drown out the voices – she turns to the only person she knows who can help her: her grandmother Eloise Montgomery, a renowned psychic living in The Hollows, New York.

Merri Gleason is a woman at the end of her tether after a ten-month-long search for her missing daughter, Abbey. With almost every hope exhausted, she resorts to hiring Jones Cooper, a detective who sometimes works with psychic Eloise Montgomery. Merri’s not a believer, but she’s just desperate enough to go down that road, praying that she’s not too late. Time, she knows, is running out.

As a harsh white winter moves into The Hollows, Finley and Eloise are drawn into the investigation, which proves to have much more at stake than even the fate of a missing girl. As Finley digs deeper into the town and its endless layers, she is forced to examine the past, even as she tries to look into the future. Only one thing is clear: The Hollows gets what it wants, no matter what.

Review: I had originally put “Ink and Bone” as one of my highlighted books for the month of June, but then it got bumped off in favor of “The Girls” by Emma Cline. But in an ironic twist of fate, I got to “Ink and Bone” before I got to “The Girls”. I do like a good mystery, and I do like themes of psychic consultants and procedural dramas that center around missing or kidnapped people. Perhaps that makes me morbid, but meh, I’ll own it. So I was pretty excited to actually get my hands on “Ink and Bone” when it came in at my library. But I think that what was ultimately the downfall of this situation was that as far as grit-lit thrillers go, I’ve read quite a few really good ones as of late. And “Ink and Bone” just didn’t quite live up to those.

I will start with the good, though. The opening prologue, in which Abbey is kidnapped, was very well written and did suck me in. Unger did a very good job with how she set up the scene, how she laid clues to later plot twists inside of it, and how she put the reader in Abbey’s shoes, so profoundly that I was on edge throughout the whole segment. It definitely started the story off with a serious bang, and I was very interested in finding out what happened. It started at such a high and tension filled level that I was thinking that it could only go up from there. Unfortunately, at least for me, the rest of the book never quite reached the same levels of intensity and suspense that the first few pages did. And for a thriller novel, that is quite the no-no.

I really did like Finley, our main character and tormented psychic. I liked that she wasn’t perfect, and wasn’t exactly the trope that many of these psychics in stories like this fall into: the serene, calm, almost ethereal enigma. Finley doesn’t have the temperament for that. She is young, and a bit insecure with herself, and hasn’t quite come to terms with her gifts. Her grandmother, Eloise, is trying to guide her in hopes that she will be able to hone her craft, but Finley, at first, isn’t quite sure that she has what it takes. After all, Eloise is basically the go-to psychic for cops and investigations that are at the end of their ropes. It was fun seeing a young psychic trying to get her sea legs, as so many in pop culture (like Alison DuBois in “Medium” or Billie Dean in “American Horror Story”) are already in tune with what they can and cannot do. I also liked her relationship with her tattoo artist on-again off-again lover, Ranier. Their relationship isn’t exactly the healthiest, but I could understand why she was drawn to him, and how he is both good and not so go for her. Her need to get tattoos all over her body as a coping mechanism to her visions was a very fascinating character trait, and gave her a bit more of an edge without seeming cloying.

Most of the other characters, however, were fairly predictable. Eloise definitely fell into the role of serene and wise psychic grandmother, and while she was perfectly nice it didn’t exactly do anything new for the old chestnut of a trope. I felt the same way about Merri and Wolf, the parents of Abbey, the kidnapped girl. Wolf is, of course, a shitty human being who has been sleeping with other women throughout his entire marriage. Of course he is. And Merri is the woman who stands by her man in spite of it all. I think that perhaps she was meant to be a bit more well rounded because she fully knows what he’s doing and has a certain amount of disdain for him and his actions, but it just felt odd to me. I know that they were both dealing with shared grief, but I just couldn’t quite get on board with them as a couple. Maybe I wasn’t meant to. The kidnappers were also the usual suspects: a crazed man who is also a pedophile (at least implied), and his naive wife who is trying to replace their dead daughter with other girls, who happen to be psychic as well (or at least highly sensitive). It felt a little “Doctor Sleep” to me in that regard, as while they weren’t eating the psychic girls’ life forces they were forcing them to speak to the ghost of their dead daughter in hopes of keeping a part of her with them, and therein sucking the life out of them that way. I couldn’t tell if we were meant to feel sympathy for the mother or not. Their mentally disabled son, Bobo, is another story. He bonds with the present ‘Penny’ (the name that all the kidnapped girls take on, after the dead daughter) and doesn’t want to hurt her, as he didn’t want to hurt the others, but is domineered by his mother and his need to please her.

Again, pretty standard tropes for a thriller.

I even guessed the twist pretty early on, which never gives a book any points. Doesn’t take away points, mind you, but in this case, other problems couldn’t quite save this book for me. It isn’t a bad book by any means, it just wasn’t really what I was looking for.

Rating 5: I really wanted to like this book more than I did, but it didn’t draw me in as much as I had hoped it would. I liked Finley enough, but other characters are pretty familiar tropes and the story hasn’t added much to the genre.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Ink and Bone” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Most Anticipated Mysteries of 2016”, and “2016: What the Over-35s Are Reading”.

Find “Ink and Bone” at your local library using WorldCat!

 

Joint Review: “Jane Steele”

25938397Though we do tend to read different genres, there is sometimes overlap in the books that we pick up and devour. When this happens, we decide to do a joint review, giving our thoughts through our own personal lenses of what we look for in reading material. 

Book: “Jane Steele” by Lyndsay Faye

Publishing Info: G.P. Putman’s Sons, March 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!;

Book Description: “Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.
 
Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?
 
A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I didn’t discover “Jane Eyre” until a couple years ago, but when I did I immediately fell in love with it. I loved Jane, I loved Rochester, I loved the broody star-crossed romance between them, and I loved how brassy and spitfire Jane was. It has now become one of my very favorite “classic” novels, and I am always on the look out for a good interpretation of it, or a good retelling. I can say, safely, that this search hasn’t always borne the best kind of fruit. One that stands out in particular was the book “Jane Eyre Laid Bare” by Eve Sinclair, and boy was THAT a huge miss for me. Essentially it was “Jane Eyre” but with erotic sex scenes sprinkled throughout, and that doesn’t really offend me on paper. What offends me is that it ends after she leaves Thornfield Hall the first time, and it made Rochester into a submissive slave for his dominatrix crazy wife in the attic, who wants Jane as her new sub.

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I want my Jane and Rochester romance brooding, but not creepy. (source)

Luckily, “Jane Steele” is a much better interpretation of the source material. It isn’t so much a retelling of “Jane Eyre,” as much as it is an homage to the themes of it. Jane Steele is certainly an orphan girl with a cruel aunt, who goes to a boarding school, and ends up as governess to a girl in a sweeping mansion on the moors… But she’s also a fan of “Jane Eyre” the novel. Oh, and she’s a serial killer, though I would argue that in most cases she is completely justified in what she is doing, so to try and paint it as such seems a bit dishonest. In fact, I think that was my biggest frustration with the book, in that I thought it was going to be about a crazy version of Jane who kills mercilessly. But it wasn’t. But ultimately, that was okay.

I liked Jane Steele as a narrator and protagonist quite a bit. True, I sometimes found the winking at the reader airs about her to be a bit much, but overall I found her to be well rounded and I found her to be a good proxy for the original Jane. Her hardships at home and at school always felt very real, talking about the way that women during the time period were mistreated and abused in a very realistic way. In fact, up until we got to the stuff at Highgate House, where Charles Thornfield (the Rochester Proxy) lived, which also happened to be her childhood home, I was totally on board with this book. Regretfully, it was when she started the part I was most anticipating that it started to lose a bit of its luster for me. Charles was fine. I really liked his butler/friend Sardar, who is Sikh. Charles and Sardar fought together during the Sikh Wars, and I really liked that Faye didn’t just ignore the British imperialism that was going on at the time and the consequences it had for those that it was conquering. Unfortunately, Sardar and his deep and complex friendships with Charles and Jane aside, Jane and Charles didn’t have the oomph and chemistry that Jane Eyre and Rochester Proxies NEED TO HAVE. They need to smolder, and Jane and Charles didn’t do that for me.

The murder scenes are rightfully gruesome though! I liked seeing Jane Steele going out there and perpetrating various crimes of revenge. I think that had some of these cases addressed been a bit more shades of grey it would have given the story more literary clout.  On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with a power fantasy of women getting revenge on those who have abused them or abused other women. Sometimes that can be satisfying, too. The villains in this book are almost always White Men with Too Much Power, and given that British imperialism during the time period that “Jane Eyre” was written in was very much the name of the game, it was very nice to see that turned on it’s head.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed “Jane Steele.” As far as homages to “Jane Eyre” go, this one is a true winner.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I remember growing up and hearing over and over again that “Jane Eyre” was my mother’s favorite book. It was a yearly read for her. Around middle school, I discovered Jane Austen, another favorite of my mother’s and an author who was often mentioned in conjunction with her raves of “Jane Eyre.” So, after finishing all of Austen’s works, it was a natural jump to this. Unfortunately, this jump might have been my first mistake. Having come off the witty, light, and comedic notes that Jane Austen is known for, “Jane Eyre”‘s much darker, angsty tone didn’t sit quite right for me. I found the tone of the book glum, and while I like Jane Eyre as a character, I thought that Rochester was generally a jerk towards her and that she could do better. I thought this even before getting to the “hidden crazy wife in the attic” part. Now, as an adult, I have re-read it and appreciated it more. But, while I can completely see how this book became a favorite for Kate (whose love of brooding men knows no limit!), it still never hits quite the right notes for me, especially in the romance department. All that said, I still enjoyed it and was very intrigued by the concept of this book. Bizarrely, I assumed that making Jane Eyre a serial killer might actually lighted up the original tale, and in some ways, I think this was right. I mean, what a crazy idea! But it works!

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this novel. The language was seamless and appropriate to the time. I think this is often one of the greatest challenges of retellings of classic novels. Authors attempt to mimic speech patterns and language choices and either wildly miss the mark or come across as trying too hard. So, too, it is too easy to superimpose modern sensibilities on historical time periods, thus completely undermining aspects of society and worldviews that are imperative to the original story. In both of these ways, “Jane Steele” was a success. The challenges Jane faced were realistic and appropriate to the time. And while reacting with murder was certainly not the common approach, her motivations and methods were believable.

As Kate mentioned, one problem with this concept was the way the book was advertised: “Jane Eyre as a serial killer!” as well as the way Jane Steele refers to herself as a murderer throughout the book. Perhaps this has to do, again, with modern perspectives looking in on these situations, but I, like Kate, found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with Jane’s inability to accurately assess the context behind many of her supposed murders. Unfortunately, for me, this problem also undermined an important moment in the conclusion of the novel. The build up and resolution didn’t seem to fit. But, on the other hand, this could just be a case of an unreliable narrator, and in many ways it’s understandable. Just slightly frustrating for the reader.

I actually really enjoyed Jane’s time at Highgate House. Perhaps because I wasn’t fully on board with Jane/Rochester in the original, the changes to the type of relationship and interactions between Jane and Charles didn’t bother me as much. If anything, for me it was still too similar. I don’t know, brooders aren’t my type!

I definitely agree with Kate, however, that a strength of the book was its secondary characters and the backstory for Charles and Sardar with the Sikh Wars. Their history was complicated and interesting, and their child ward was much more engaging than Adele was in the original.

I enjoyed the call backs to “Jane Eyre,” particularly when Jane Steele called the character out on choices that I, too, found questionable in that book. However, I also agree with Kate here that some of these winking nods could also interrupt the novel and be slightly jarring in tone. I like where the author was going with it, but at certain points, it felt like she was trapped by her own idea a bit.

All in all, I very much enjoyed “Jane Steele.” As a fan of historical novels, this book landed well. As I first mentioned, the biggest challenges (the language and the adherence to the structures of society in that time period) were handled aptly. And while I did have a few criticisms, I would highly recommend this book to fans of “Jane Eyre.” You don’t have to have read the original, but I guarantee a basic knowledge of that book will improve your reading enjoyment of this.

Kate’s Rating 8: A tense and fun read, with lots of “Jane Eyre” love to go around. I just wish the romance was stronger.

Serena’s Rating 8: A strong retelling that doesn’t fall into the common traps for historical retellings. The unreliable narrator was both a plus and a negative, however.

Reader’s Advisory

“Jane Steele” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Derivatives of Jane Eyre”, and “Female Anti-Heroines”.

Fine “Jane Steele” at your library using WorldCat!