Serena’s Review: “Strange Practice”

32452160Book: “Strange Practice” by Vivian Shaw

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Greta Helsing inherited the family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta’s been groomed for since childhood.

Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.

Review: First off, thanks to Orbit for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for a review! I read the description for it, and was pretty much like “Yep, gotta read that!” As a lover of urban fantasy, it’s been a distressing few years recently. Many of my favorite series (“Mercy Thompson” and “Kate Daniels”) are beginning to show their age and are likely (perhaps hopefully) going to wrap up soon. Beyond these, many of my other forays into the genre have yielded middling returns. Either these books stray too closely to tropes already well-established in staple series in the genre to trigger any sense of originality and interest, or…they’re just kind of bland? Not so with “Strange Practice!” Shaw has expertly introduced a new leading lady with a unique perspective on her urban fantasy world and lifestyle, and I was digging it the entire way.

Greta Helsing is a doctor for the strange and unusual, the monstrous and the arcane. It is a family practice after her family decided to turn away from the hunting business and re-focus in on the helping side of things. Right here we have such a unique take on urban fantasy that I was immediately completely sold on. Not only is Greta a great character on her own, but her perspective as a doctor presented readers with an entirely new lens through which to view the supernatural world. How do mummies get by with their rotting bodies? What about sunburns for vampires? Do any of these creatures suffer from mental illnesses? Cuz living forever could have some major psychological implications. Not only was there a plethora of creativity in this area, but Greta remained true to this focus throughout the story, even when the evil monks showed up and the action really got started.

A big frustration of mine with urban fantasy is when the heroes or heroines sillyly jump beyond their own abilities, somehow thinking (and for plot convenience, accurately thinking) that they can play on the same field as magical beings who have million times the magical power as they. Suddenly the author is forced to create loop hole after loop hole to keep their protagonist up and moving instead of simply being hand-swiped away in the first minute. With this in mind, it was refreshing that Greta’s entire perspective on her situation was always rooted firmly in her position as a doctor. Even more so, in that she realizes the unique service she provides to her clients and understands the importance of staying safe, not only for her own sake, but for those who would suffer without access to medical care. As I said, refreshing, and when she does end up in the action (cuz of course, she must), she plays a believable, yet important, role. See?! It is possible to keep your heroine grounded while also staying true to the action of your story!!

Beyond Greta, I was surprised to discover that we had several other point of view characters as well. I always wish there was some way for these book descriptions to hint at this possibility, as it always feels like a bit of a side-swipe to be set up as if the book is from one protagonist’s point of view, and then end up with a handful of others. But alas. With this story, it is of no matter since I thoroughly enjoyed the perspectives these other creatures brought. We had a vampire and a vampyre (the distinction having to do with the type of blood they require), a demon, and even a few chapters from the viewpoint of the nefarious schemers. There was quite a lot of unique world-building and monster “history” that was brought in with all of these characters, and the many other supernatural beings who made appearances.

I particularly liked the tone of the story. Dark, witty, and full of literary allusions that were great fun to spot. There as a nice balance struck between the horror aspects and the vampire-friendship-fluff. On one page there would be murder and mayhem, and on the next, a vampire shopping spree! And never once does the story get swept away by its own concept. It would have been all too easy for the humor of the story to have veered into the silly, but Shaw walks the perfect line. Lastly, the setting of London for this story gave it an extra dash of depth, as, like the city itself, the timeless aspects of these creatures that are steeped in history and meaning must now adapt to exist alongside the speed and change of the modern world.

If you enjoy urban fantasy, and are hankering for a new series to follow, I can’t recommend enough that you check out “Strange Practice!”

Rating 9: An excellent new entry into what was beginning to feel like a tired genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Strange Practice” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Monster Books” and “Urban Fantasy – London”

Find “Strange Practice” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Prophecy”

34036785Book: “The Prophecy” by Petra Landon

Publishing Info: January 27, 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-book provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

Book Description: Chosen have walked the earth for time immemorial. Tasia is a very special Chosen. Warned to keep her distance from her brethren, she makes a fateful decision one night to assist an injured Shape-shifter. Suddenly, Tasia finds herself in the cross-hairs of Shifter mercenaries encroaching on San Francisco. Forced out of the shadows, Tasia has little choice but to ally herself with the local Shifter Pack led by a formidable and dangerous Alpha Protector. In the cut-throat world of a Shifter Pack, Tasia must fight to protect her secrets while struggling to negotiate with the enigmatic Alpha who holds his violent Pack together with a ruthless hand on its reins.

Grave danger threatens their world as a powerful wizard exploits an old prophecy to divide the Chosen. When the Pack is asked to investigate the twenty-five year old mystery, Tasia is drawn deeper into a past that risks raising the suspicions of the very Chosen she hides from. As danger closes in on her, Tasia must decide who to trust with the deadly secrets she guards.

Review: I was approached by the author to read and review this book, and after looking over the book description, I decided to give it a go! While urban fantasy isn’t my go-to subgenre in the larger speculative fiction group, there are several series that I have read and enjoyed for a several years now, and this book sounded as if it would fit in well with those! And, for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed by this initial assessment. “The Prophesy” is a solid entry into the urban fantasy realm, if still in need of a bit of tightening up and a few more elements that differentiate it as a unique world.

From my experience, most urban fantasy series live and die by the strength of their main character. Tasia, I am happy to say, held her own very well. Her voice was interesting and the mysteries of her abilities and why she is disguising herself as a lesser being were intriguing strings to follow throughout the book. I will say that this initial set up struck a bit too closely to the Kate Daniels books which are set up with a similar premises (very strong heroine hiding her abilities from the rest of the supernatural world), but as I continued reading I was able to appreciate the unique aspects that the author brought to Tasia and her own story.

I also enjoyed the larger world building and the inclusion of many different supernatural beings with creative names and relationships between the groups. Obviously we spend much more time with the Shifters than any other group, so they stood out as a highlight in the book. At first I was a bit confused about the power structure within this group and how the different Shifters all related to each other. It was clear, however, that the Alpha Protector was the One-Shifter-To-Rule-Them-All, and I liked him as a character very much.

This is a hefty read. The page count is fairly long, especially for urban fantasy which tends towards the shorter page counts for fantasy fiction. But the book is full of action and adventure, so after a bit of a slow start, I was able to fully invest myself in the story and simply enjoy the ride.

There were a few writing mechanics issues that I did struggle with. I, personally, am not a fan of exclamation points in most of my reading. Perhaps in some dialogue, they can work. But they were used a bit too often in the general narration, for my preference, and I found myself being thrown out of the story a bit due to it. And, as I said, there were a few aspects of the story that struck a bit too close to home to general urban fantasy tropes. I very much liked Tasia, but she also felt a bit too familiar to other classic urban fantasy heroines at times. However, this is the beginning of a series, so there is plenty of room left to grow her character and this world even further, lending more distinction to the series as an entry into the genre.

So, in conclusion, this was a solid start to a new urban fantasy series. There were a few parts that I struggled with, but if you’re looking for another dose of urban fantasy action, check out this book!

Rating 7: A good start for a new urban fantasy world if still leaving room for improvement going forward as a series!

Reader’s Advisory:

This is a lesser known book at this point and isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Awesome Urban Fantasy Heroines.”

This book is also not currently listed on WorldCat, but you can get a copy on Amazon!

 

Serena’s Review: “Silence Fallen”

30687916Book: “Silence Fallen” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace Books, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-galley from NetGalley

Book Description: Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe…

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise…

Review: The tenth book in the Mercy Thompson series sees our intrepid heroine off on her own, kidnapped to another country. While the series is beginning to show its age, I still very much enjoy these characters, and choosing to set the story in a new location added a new dimension to a familiar story.

Mercy Thompson remains my one of two favorite urban fantasy heroines (right up there with Kate Daniels), and, as the series has progressed, she has been the primary draw for my returning to the series. As I mentioned earlier, this is the 10th book, and with a long-running series like this, its not surprising that story arcs can begin to feel familiar and the cast of characters begins to be unmanageably large. Briggs uses a clever trick to side-step both of these issues by setting this book in Europe after Mercy is kidnapped by a powerful Italian vampire. Suddenly we’re in a new location and the cast of characters involved is greatly reduced to only Mercy herself and Adam and the select few others he brings along on his “rescue” mission (the term “rescue” always requires quotes when it comes to Mercy as she is typically as capable of getting herself out of trouble as she is at getting herself into it, though she gets a pass on that last part in this one as her kidnapping was clearly not of her own volition). We’ve had a few other books where we’ve swapped viewpoints between Mercy and Adam, and here that format is utilized once again.

Mercy’s storyline is fairly straight forward. Escape her kidnappers, travel across Europe, somehow land in even more hot water, and learn more about her shapeshifter heritage and how her unique powers to see and talk with ghosts could mean even more than she had previously known. The first bit is pretty par for the course. At this point there really isn’t much tension that can be built around Mercy’s original dilemma. We’ve seen her kidnapped or in the clutches of a much more powerful being one too many times to be really intimidated by this setting, and, smartly, Briggs moves past this fairly quickly.

One of the remaining mysteries in this series is Mercy’s background as a child of Coyote, a powerful Native American spirit, and what gifts this has bestowed upon her. My favorite parts of this story revolved around the added depth that was given to this topic and the introduction of a much more vast and expansive history for Coyote’s influence and work in the greater world. Briggs also introduced a new creature with the Golem of Prague, a powerful being whose mysteries Mercy must unlock to save herself and the city.

Adam’s storyline was much more…political. While I enjoyed seeing a few of my favorite characters back (Stephan has been absent quite a lot in the last several books), it was also disappointing to find that much of his story arc ultimately served very little purpose. The larger dynamics that take place within the vampire seethes worldwide was interesting, but Briggs sets up the Italian vampire lord as one of the most powerful supernatural beings in the world and then…it all kind of comes to nothing? There were a few exciting moments, but much of this arc was taken up with carefully worded negotiations and power plays, but very little action. And in the end, the reader is kind of left wondering what was the point of it all?

There was also a neat twist towards the end that I didn’t see coming. However, it also threw a few things into question. Adam’s perspective makes up half of the story, and we know that he would be informed of this particular secret, but when we’re reading his earlier sections, it reads as if he is unaware of this. I know that this is to keep the reader in the dark, but it doesn’t ring true that Adam would think/act this way knowing the truth that we later find out. When it was revealed, I found it to be very jarring and had to go back and re-read several section to both now further appreciate what was going on and to confirm that yes, it was weird that this was written this way in the first place given Adam’s knowledge of it the whole time. This seems like a small quibble for what was actually a very neat reveal. But I wish there had been a way to neaten it up so that that same fun reveal wasn’t undercut by what had come before.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed Mercy’s story line, but I was left underwhelmed by Adam’s. I still loved reading chapters from his perspective, but the arc he was given wasn’t strong. For an Alpha werewolf, he was given very little actual action, and the end results of his storyline didn’t feel worth the time it was given throughout the book. In the end, I’m not quite sure why it was even necessary to split this book into two parts. The ending would have needed to be changed, but it feels like very little tweaking would have been necessary to focus this story in on the more interesting arc and do away with the overly extended political maneuvering all together. Especially given that, by the end, things simply felt re-set and I was still left questioning the point of it all.

Rating 6: The original strengths of these books (its main characters) are still going strong, but the series is beginning to fray at the edges.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silence Fallen” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Bad Bitches of Urban Fantasy “ and “Native American Paranormal.”

Find “Silence Fallen” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous reviewed: “Mercy Thompson series review” and “Fire Touched”

Serena’s Review: “Magic Binds”

17333174Book: “Magic Binds” by Illona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Kate and the former Beast Lord Curran Lennart are finally making their relationship official. But there are some steep obstacles standing in the way of their walk to the altar…

Kate’s father, Roland, has kidnapped the demigod Saiman and is slowly bleeding him dry in his never-ending bid for power. A Witch Oracle has predicted that if Kate marries the man she loves, Atlanta will burn and she will lose him forever. And the only person Kate can ask for help is long dead.

The odds are impossible. The future is grim. But Kate Daniels has never been one to play by the rules…

Review: From all accounts, the Kate Daniels series is set to be a ten book run. And this, the 9th, definitely feels like it is the setup for a grand finale, hitting all the right notes by growing the conflict with Roland, raising the psychological stakes for our heroine, and setting up a clear end game for the story as a whole.

The last few books were a bit middling, if I’m honest. As I said in my last review of this series, with Roland on the scene any other “big bad” feels superficial and like a place-holder whose only purpose is to delay the big eventual show-down between Kate and her father. In this book, we’ve arrived at that show-down. Or, at least, to the initial skirmishes that lead up to it.

For a series that started out fairly firmly rooted in the urban fantasy/romance genre, I feel like the story has really come into its own as a family drama. And what a dysfunctional, all-powerful, ego-maniacal family it is! While Curran still plays his role, his and Kate’s relationship has felt steady and well-defined for some time now. And I really appreciate that after the one stumble with relationship shenanigans a few books ago, Andrews hasn’t felt the need to fiddle with this aspect much. Instead, the focus has shifted to Kate’s growing understanding and relationship (?) with her remaining family, in whatever form they may now be.

Kate’s aunt, the “City Eater,” who was killed off a few books ago makes a refreshing re-appearance. That character was brilliant the first time around, both as a legitimately threatening enemy for Kate, but almost more importantly as another bridge into Kate’s family history. Here, this secondary role is even more strongly focused in upon. Kate is feeling the repercussions of her claim on Atlanta, an action that has triggered a well of power and family ambition. Not only do we get Kate’s aunt back with all of her amazing snark, but we even get to meet whatever remains of Kate’s grandma, a powerful being whom Roland has trapped to serve as an energy source to power his massive prison. There’s a lot of focus on the extensive history of Kate’s family with some beautiful looks back to what their world had been like. These flashes, combined with some quiet moments between Roland and Kate, served to much better flesh out Roland’s character and motivations.

Roland himself was great as always. Here we really begin to see the pay-off of taking this long (several books worth of time) to fully flesh out a villain. Roland is so many things all at once: loving father, murdering sociopath, sympathetic hero, misguided maniac. The reader both despises him, but also understands him. With Kate herself struggling with the “Dark Side,” for lack of a better word, it is easy to see Roland’s own fall from hero to villain. His relationship with Kate is so tragic, and yet Andrews saves the book from melancholy with trademark wit. At one point Roland is both threatening to end Kate while also being offended on her behalf about the “shameful lack of feasting” that is planned for her wedding. It’s lovely.

There are few short mini-adventures in this story, and those were the weaker points for me. They were fun enough and we run into a few interesting new creatures (a spunky pegasus is a high point), but given the added depth that we were seeing in the other parts of the book, these adventures also felt a bit too simplistic.

My only other quibble was with the very end of the story, and it was an event that had been literally prophesied from the very beginning of the book, if not the book before even. And really, this quibble is only a personal choice as *spoiler warning* not typically being a fan of pregnancy storylines in fantasy is purely on me.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book. It actually might be one of my favorites in the series. The stakes are higher, the personal conflict is greater, the backstory is richer, and the characters have all come into their own.

Rating 8: A great penultimate story!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Magic Binds” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Vamp’s, Were’s, Sorcerer’s/Witches & Elves “  and “Girl with a Sword and an Animal Friend.”

Find “Magic Binds” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Kate Daniels Series” and  “Magic Shifts”

 

Serena’s Review: “Vassa in the Night”

28220892Review: “Vassa in the Night” by Sarah Porter

Publishing Info: Tor, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

Review: Another book that I had on my highlights post for Septmeber that finally showed up a week or so ago! I wasn’t familiar with the original Russian fairytale that inspired this book, so I came into it with very little idea of what it was going to be. Magic in Brooklyn and a Baba Yagga villain. Sounded awesome.

And large parts of it were! The general worldbuilding was very interesting. Your mileage with this will largely depend on how willing you are as a reader to “just go with it” as far as explanations and magic systems. There’s really no explanation for why and how magic exists in this area of the world. Further, the type of magic that is presented is much closer to the nonsense magic seen in “Alice in Wonderland” than to a more outlined and rule-bound magic like “Harry Potter.” That being the case, there is a lot of things popping up here and there with no rhyme or reason and then disappearing just as quickly. Some of these things I particularly enjoyed, like a group of swans that Vassa befriends, and a pair of sinister hands that operate as Babs’ henchmen, essentially.

Other parts felt a bit contrived, however, and as if Porter was simply trying too hard. Particularly some of her efforts to involve nonsense word-play (similar to the Fairyland books I had just read). And maybe having just come off those which were almost the perfect example of nailing this writing style, I was a bit biased against Porter’s attempts here. But I also feel that it was simply not executed well. While nonsense writing can be very insightful, this was clunky and actually confusing. At several points I had to re-read section to try and understand them and then, more often than not, came away with the conclusion that this was just another unexplained element. And while some of these unexplained magical oddities were enjoyable, it didn’t translate here. Dialogue and descriptions needs to be clear, regardless of how little you as an author are providing insights into other magical elements.

Vassa was a very strong protagonist. Her voice was unique and interesting, and I especially enjoyed her relationship with her sisters, especially her elder sister. As I’ve said, I always like sister stories! And, of course, Vassa’s primary partner in crime: Erg, the animated doll. I was both creeped out by and intrigued by Erg. I don’t think I was supposed to be as creeped out as I was, but there were certain elements of her and Vassa’s relationship that was confusing to me. Erg is definitely an intelligent individual with her own opinions, motives, and outlooks on life. So it was very strange switching from her and Vassa debating what do do about some problem or another to Vassa petting and nuzzling her the way you would a kitten. It was strange. But, as I’ve said, so was the whole book.

Ultimately, this book was stronger as a concept than it was as an actual story. There were almost too many weird things thrown in at every moment which prevented me from ever becoming fully invested in the story. I was too busy being confused by some of the writing choices and bouncing from one thing to another to really be able to draw a connecting line throughout the book or form real attachments to characters. There were random chapters inserted here or there attempting to provide some background information that only opened up more doors and left more dangling plot lines (Vassa’s father’s storyline was one of these). While this book is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to an actual dark fairytale set in an urban setting (vs. most urban fantasy which often is the usual, generic, vampires and witches and such in an in every other way normal city), it was too weighed down by its own concept to every really take off.

Rating 6: A unique concept and interesting worldbuilding places too much burden on a confusing plot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Vassa in the Night” is a new book and isn’t included on many Goodreads lists. However, it should be on “Dark Fairy Tales.”

Find “Vassa in the Night” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Joint Review: “The Dream Thieves”

17347389

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 author, 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!

giphy3
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.

giphy2
(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!