Review: The Raven Boys

October is a perfect time of year for the supernatural, which means books like Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, the first volume in a magical YA quartet.

About the Book: Blue is a teenager with a whole family of psychics, but her only power seems to be in amplifying energy for others’ use. Except on one notable St. Mark’s Eve, she sees a spirit while she is helping her aunt catalogue the names of the soon-to-be dead. No spirit has ever appeared to her before, and she’s told that the only reason for a non-seer to see a spirit is that he’s either a true love or has died by her hand. And this spirit is not just anyone, but a Raven Boy, a member of the town’s private school for rich kids. Blue has a self-imposed rule to avoid them, but she worries that he deserves at least a warning. That is, until she meets Gansey and his three best friends. They’re on a quest to find Glendower, the long-lost Welsh king, along a ley line in Blue’s Virginia hometown, a king rumored to have the power to grant a favor to the person who wakes him. Blue is intrigued by the odd group of friends and their unusual, supernatural hunt for Glendower. theravenboys

“The boys seemed to act as a unit, a single, multiheaded entity. To see any of them without the presence of the others felt a little… dangerous.”

Together, the five of them might have just the right resources to succeed–but they may not be the only ones close on the path to Glendower, and their opponents may be dangerously unstable and perhaps even downright evil. There’s also a ghost who may have something to say about that.

“Gansey was the boy she either killed or fell in love with. Or both. There was no being ready. There just was this: Maura opening the door.”

Sometimes I read a book based largely on its popularity. This was one of those. I did know there would be a hunt for a Welsh king, which was enough to reassure me that I would enjoy its subject matter, but mostly I picked up this book because it’s widely referred to as “good.” So imagine my surprise when I began turning pages and realized I loved everything about this book–“good” is an inadequate description. It doesn’t sufficiently cover:

a) the characters. Every single character in this book is so vastly different and unique, and there are a decent range of them. The narrator shows a little of every main character’s perspective, so the reader sees not only who’s who, but what makes each of them tick. The four Raven Boy friends Blue encounters are all on opposite ends of the (apparently four-sided) personality spectrum. It’s incredible to see what brings each of them together, and how all of their differing motives set them up to search for Glendower. Stiefvater creates such rich characters that feel like they might just walk off the page, which seems essential for

b) the supernatural element. When the book opened with talk of psychics, I was skeptical. But Blue knows skepticism is common and addresses that issue early on, allowing readers to suspend their disbelief and follow her into uncharted territory. Having believable, realistic characters is what makes the supernatural bits feel plausible. I’m not sure I’m a big believer of the supernatural in the real world around me, but Stiefvater makes it possible to read about unusual tricks of energy and otherworldly encounters without thinking constantly, “This could never happen.” And

c) the writing style. The details of this story are colorful and immersive, transporting the reader right into the setting and the characters’ lives. There are enough hints of romance to keep the reader watching, but there isn’t one of those obvious YA loves that starts at hate and ends at dying for each other in two seconds flat. It’s a slow build, as a novel should be. Also, I love that this series seems to be one of those sets where the books tell one story divided into parts, rather than a bunch of smaller self-contained stories lined up. This is one you have to commit to entirely–the first book raised so many questions that I suspect won’t be answered in their entirety until the end of the fourth book, and I certainly will be reading on to discover those answers. And if the witty characters and plot intrigue aren’t enough for you, there’s also some humor mixed in, just to keep things real.

” ‘I’m feeling better,’ he said, as if he’d been ill instead of dead.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I was expecting to be entertained by this “good” book. I wasn’t expecting a new favorite YA series, but The Raven Cycle certainly seems to hold that potential. It’s rare for me to find a book in which I am fascinated both by the story and how it’s told, but The Raven Boys is one of those. I will certainly be picking up the second book in this series the next time I’m at the library. Books like this are the reason I believe the YA genre has something to offer readers of all ages.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you like YA fantasy with a hint of the supernatural, try Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. This one features magic-wielding casters who partake in a major battle of good vs. evil, rooted in southern USA. I didn’t actually like the whole series, but I did enjoy this first book. (I need to read more YA fantasy/supernatural books. And recommendations for me?)

What’s next: I’m currently reading Marissa Meyer’s second book in the Lunar Chronicles series, Scarlet. After that I’m going to need a break from YA, but for now I’m enjoying this quick science fiction fairy tale retelling. Stay tuned to find out how this sequel compares to the first book!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now find my complete review of the next book in this series, The Dream Thieves, here!

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Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

Sarah J. Maas is a top name in YA fantasy these days, and I’ve finally taken a look at one of her first-in-a-series books, A Court of Thorns and Roses. Although the end of winter would be a much better time to read about the Spring Court of Prythian, I took this book right out to the fields with me this fall and could hardly put it down.

acourtofthornsandrosesAbout the book: Feyre is the youngest of three daughters in an impoverished family, but she seems to be the only one capable of ensuring that her sisters and father survive. Feyre promised on her mother’s deathbed to take care of them, but their luck’s about to change. While hunting in the woods, Feyre shoots her arrow into a wolf that may be a faerie in disguise, and her whole life changes in consequence. An immortal faerie comes to claim the life debt by taking Feyre as his captive into Prythian, a deadly place not fit for mortals. Despite her desire to return to her family and keep the promise she made to her mother, as Feyre becomes more involved in life with the faeries she learns some disturbing secrets that change her view of the world and perhaps even her purpose in life. An unlikely love will also play a role in Feyre’s decisions as it becomes clearer that her life and her friends may be at stake in an epic, magic-infused fight for control of Prythian.

” ‘So,’ he said wearily, ‘here we are, with the fate of our immortal world in the hands of an illiterate human.’ His laugh was unpleasant as he hung his head, cupping his forehead in a hand, and closed his eyes. ‘What a mess.’ “

This book is a fantasy retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast story, which is a personal favorite of mine. Feyre, however, is no helpless damsel in distress, and even when she knows she stands no chance against an enemy, she refuses to go down without a fight–which includes fighting for those she loves. The world Maas has created in this novel is delicately sumptuous and positively irresistible.

“Magic–that’s what the tang had been, what was keeping my limbs tucked in tight, preventing me from going for my knife. I recognized the power deep in my bones, from some collective mortal memory and terror.  How long had it kept me unconscious? How long had he kept me unconscious, rather than have to speak to me?”

However, there were times I felt that Maas had such a clear idea of this story and its setting that when she inserted main characters into the novel, she failed to mine them sufficiently for personality. The characters’ motivations were so basically related to human instinct and natural emotion that there seemed to be little about them that was distinct. These characters felt like they could be strong, but weren’t quite reaching their full potential in A Court of Thorns and Roses. With Feyre in particular, an event would be followed by a note of her emotions or thoughts that didn’t quite match what had been shown previously in regards to her personality and reactions. I think that the return of these characters in future volumes of this series will help them develop more fully, evolving into unique traits and consistent mannerisms, so it’s not a major concern of mine yet although it did make this story feel more contrived.

Nevertheless, whether the characters’ emotions are remarkable or not, emotions are certainly prevalent. Love and hate and immense loyalty in this novel are laying the seeds for what I predict will be remarkably complex relationships as this series continues. Even where the emotions are predictable, they are strong enough to insist upon being felt, inserting themselves into the readers’ own hearts. The plot of A Court of Thorns and Roses has been constructed to instigate emotion.

“Tomorrow–there would be tomorrow…to face what I had done, to face what I shredded into pieces inside myself…but for now…for today…”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I think that if I had approached this book as I would a stand-alone novel, it would’ve had a lower rating. The fact that I knew beforehand it was part of a series, and that the second book is widely held as the better of the two that have so far been published, gave me more patience with A Court of Thorns and Roses than I might have had based on its own merit. I liked the plot, but if I hadn’t read this book intending to get to the next one, I might not have been invested enough to read the next one. Now that I don’t read YA books as frequently as I used to, it takes a truly extraordinary novel to keep me interested in a YA set, and this one makes the grade, but barely. I’ll read the second book, A Court of Mist and Fury, and see what happens from there.

Further Recommendations:

  1. Anything by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes would probably be appreciated by Sarah J. Maas fans. She’s lesser known than she deserves. Hawksong is a great YA fantasy choice with a fulfilling romance, and it can easily be read in one sitting.
  2. The Vampire Diaries series by L. J. Smith is another fantastic YA romance, albeit supernatural rather than fantasy. The books are better than the show, as per usual, but the plot is irresistibly dark and addicting, sweet and intense, like A Court of Thorns and Roses. Even if you already have an idea of the story line from the TV show, or generally don’t like vampires, don’t pass on this series without trying it, especially if you like Maas style romance.

What’s next: I panicked on my last library trip, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to get back for a while, and grabbed a few extra things on top of what I was already planning to read in October. I must have been in an otherworldly mood that day, because I picked up fantasy and supernatural books. I hope it won’t throw off my October TBR too much, and I hope I won’t get too bogged down with fantasy to get through them, but I’m planning to finish the library books first. So now that I’ve turned this into a long explanation, I’ll get to the point and mention that I’m currently reading Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, and loving it. Keep an eye out for my next post soon to find out why The Raven Boys is another perfect October read!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: You can now find my complete review of the next book in this series, A Court of Mist and Fury, here!

Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Do you crave books that veer so far from “normal” that the reader must question absolutely everything that’s been told, including the characters’ identities? Search no further that Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a psychological thriller that begins so ordinarily only to leave you wondering whether a single statement can be trusted.

imthinkingofendingthings“Something that disorients, that unsettles what’s taken for granted, something that disturbs and disrupts reality–that’s scary.”

About the book: A young woman and her fairly new boyfriend, Jake, take a short road trip to the farm Jake grew up on. Before they even arrive, however, Jake’s girlfriend is thinking about ending the relationship. What should be a nice meal shared with Jake’s parents turns into a strange evening full of odd coincidences, confused conversations, and a chase through an empty school building late at night. Nothing is quite as it seems, but only the girlfriend seems to notice that anything is amiss. Before long, the reader will begin to wonder whether anyone will make it home from this trip at all.

“Questions are good. They’re better than answers. If you want to know more about life, how we work, how we progress, it’s questions that are important. That’s what pushes and stretches our intellect…Not knowing is human.”

Best aspect: there’s so much commentary, slightly philosophical in nature, about humanity in general. Whole paragraphs about what’s worth living for, whether loneliness is an acceptable condition, how people interact with others and the world; these statements begin as broad generalizations that many readers can likely relate to, but then morph into something a little more twisted that  change the reader’s perspective on what is happening in the story. These little nuggets of “wisdom” seem not only to apply to various facets of life, but to the book itself. In the quotation above, the narrator is championing questions and uncertainty–qualities this book is filled to the brim with. Another example: in stating that thoughts are closer to truth than actions, the reader is guided to pay more attention to what’s inside the characters’ minds than the motions they make in the world. These relatable signposts keep the reader invested in the puzzle and offer clues at the same time.

Worst aspect: when the explanation finally arrives for all the oddities in this plot, it is so brief, and so strange, that much is still left to the imagination. The reader must inhabit the narrator’s mind and make his/her own assumptions about the narrator’s decisions on including certain details. This would be an aspect I could better appreciate if a little more space in the story was dedicated to it. From the slow, ordinary start to the novel (which helps make the uncanny coincidences more unsettling later on), to the gradual build in tension, the reader’s uncertainties about the story feel well-paced and necessary to the reading experience of I’m Thinking of Ending Things. The answers, however, are so compact and drive toward such a hasty end that the only way to truly grasp everything is to follow the narrator’s advice and start over from the beginning with the knowledge about the characters you’ve gained by the end. I love a book that makes me want to read it more than once–I’m a little less fond of books that force me into a second read.

“Both fictions and memories are recalled and retold. They’re both forms of stories. Stories are the way we learn. Stories are how we understand each other. But reality only happens once.”

One definite plus about my experience with this book, however, was that I picked the perfect time of year to read it. I didn’t add a lot of extremely creepy or scary books to my October TBR this year, but this one surprised me with its unnerving plot and shiver-inducing details. This short novel is fraught with eeriness, from mysterious men staring in through bedroom windows, to a dark, dank cellar lined with spooky paintings, to a secret inhabited closet in a locked and deserted school. Reality goes off its rails as one simple thought, “I’m thinking of ending things,” leads to its only possibly conclusion. This book is absolutely frightening not only because of the monsters outside, but the ones within.

“What if suffering doesn’t end with death? How can we know? What if it doesn’t get better? What if death isn’t an escape? What if maggots continue to feed and feed and feed and continue to be felt?”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I would’ve thought this book was perfect if it weren’t for the drastic difference in pacing between the opening and ending. The concept for this novel is particularly appealing to me, and I found the questions and answers equally disturbing and appealing. Halloween really is the perfect time of year for this book. Not only was I pleasantly uneasy while reading this book, but all those little philosophical snippets fed my curiosity about the meaning of life. I’m Thinking of Ending Things has the sort of depth that encourages multiple reads, and will reveal new vantages to the same questions every time. And it’s short, so those potential rereads aren’t daunting. I haven’t gone through it a second time yet, but I probably will at some point. If you like creepy puzzles, pick this one up.

Further recommendations:

  1. Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood is another psychological thriller with a creepy puzzle and surreal setting. These characters will also lead you to second guess everything you know about what’s happening in the novel, and the and the answers will surprise and tug at your heart. Read my complete review here.
  2. You may also like Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, a truly frightening psychological thriller in which the narrator’s curiosity for truth will lead to dangerous places, even inside the self. This one’s perfect for this time of year.

Coming up Next: I’m reading Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses, the first volume of a popular YA (though I’d consider it NA) fantasy series. There’s been lots of hype about this one’s sequel, but stay tuned to find out whether the first book about the faeries of Prythian and the mortal who may be able to save them all lives up to expectations.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Couple Next Door

Happy fall, y’all! Looking for a creepy read this October? Start with Shari Lapena’s debut thriller, The Couple Next Door.

About the book: Marco and Anne Conti decide to continue with their dinner party plans even after their babysitter cancels, opting to leave their six month old baby home alone next door. Despite checking on her every half hour and carting around an auditory baby monitor, they’re in for a shock when they return home after 1 a.m. to discover their daughter is missing from her crib. Detective Rasbach is all-inclusive in his search, aiming suspicion at everyone from the missing babysitter, to the Contis’ neighbors, to the parents themselves. Everyone has a secret to hide, but which of them is responsible for the baby’s kidnapping? As Anne and Marco crack under the strain of being questioned about the disappearance of their child, their relationship falters and hidden details of their pasts begin to leak out. But everyone of suspicion seems to be accounted for–so where’s the baby?

I loved this story, but mildly hated its presentation. Here are a few reasons why:

The detective’s close presence in this story opens up the novel for difficult speculation early on. Almost as soon as the police arrive, Detective Rasbach is insinuating that the baby’s parents may be the guilty parties. He suggests that the baby may already be dead. His probing questions and his doubts about everyone’s morality instantly raise the tension of the novel. However, he feels like a literary device planted in the book specifically for this purpose. Detective Rashbach is a very stereotypical sort: very little personality appears other than predictable traits like that nothing surprises him, and he seeks the truth beyond all else. In fact, he was so thorough that there was almost no need to think while reading this book at all–every possibility was spelled out explicitly, thecouplenextdoorand often more than once. Rasbach wasn’t the only character speculating, but he was the only one who felt superfluous. Of course, any good crime novel needs a detective, but I wish this book had found a way to use the other main characters to increase suspense without stating everything so obviously–by eliminating access to Rasbach’s thoughts, the reader would be much more involved in finding the answers to this mystery, and more engaged in the book overall. Being able to see the detective’s actions without being force-fed all of his reasoning would allow for more showing, less telling. Here’s a sample of Rasbach regurgitating information the reader has already been given:

“Detective Rasbach observes the couple closely. A baby is missing. Taken from her crib–if the parents, Marco and Anne Conti, are to be believed–between approximately 12:30 a.m. and 1:27 a.m., by a person or persons unknown, while the parents were at a party next door. The front door had been found partly open. The back door might have been left unlocked by the father–it had in fact been found closed but unlocked when the police arrived. There is no denying the stress of the mother. And of the father, who looks badly shaken. But the whole situation doesn’t feel right. Rasbach wonders what is really going on.”

Another aspect that bothered me about this book was its third person narration. Statements like “Rasbach wonders what is really going on” seem obvious and almost insulting. This also ties in to my call for more showing than telling, but it goes beyond that. The narrator clearly has more knowledge of the situation than any of the characters do, and seems to be toying with the reader like a cat with a mouse: dangling snippets of revealing information in front of him/her that have been denied to the reader earlier for no apparent purpose. I think this book would’ve had a lot more potential if the reader had been able to see directly through each character’s eyes with an alternating first person perspective. To be able to see selective thoughts of all the suspects and still wonder who is guilty and what has become of the baby would give this novel real power.

But don’t let my complaints about the book’s narration steer you awry: I loved The Couple Next Door‘s plot. I like to know as little as possible about thrillers going in, and in this case I knew so little that I hadn’t even expected the kidnapping, which is essentially the main focus of the book. I was expecting a murder, like most psychological thrillers seem to feature, but a kidnapping made this story so much more exciting. And then there were all the characters, all with secrets, but mostly normal ones. Every character seemed absolutely ordinary, sometimes even more ordinary because of their secrets–everyone’s got something they like to hide from the world–but if everyone was so ordinary, where was the baby?

The most interesting part of the book, though, is the real danger that persists for a few of the characters–especially the baby–after all the secrets are out and still the baby is not returned. When the likely kidnapper is revealed, twisted motives and all, and all the only thing that remains to be discovered is the baby’s hiding place, the real tension of the novel begins, and it is glorious. Some are worried about the baby, some are worried about taking the fall and landing in jail, some are not worried enough about landing in jail, but throughout it all the action speeds up rather than slowing down.

“Crime has not worked for him, and yet he seems to be digging himself in deeper and deeper.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I was highly anticipating this novel. I thought it would be the next In a Dark, Dark Wood or All the Missing Girls, and maybe that’s why I disliked it. I set my sights high too early. I did end up enthralled by the plot in the last fifty pages or so, when there was more acting and less speculating, but it wasn’t enough to overcome my dislike for the slow and obviously pointed narration for the rest of the book. Don’t get me wrong–this is not a bad book. In fact, it may even be a great book. It’s just not the book for me. Before The Couple Next Door, I read Pierce Brown’s Golden Son, which is a book for intelligent readers. You have to pay attention and think hard about the details to keep up with the possibilities and plot twists. Going from that to a novel in which every angle is presented in excruciating detail multiple times and from multiple perspectives was difficult to take. I felt a bit like my intelligence as a reader, my ability to connect the dots, was assumed by Lapena to be completely absent. I don’t think the story would’ve worked without any direction from the narration, but there is an overabundance of it as it currently stands.

Further recommendations:

  1. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware is a psychological thriller in which a woman who believes she’s heard a murder is trapped on a small upscale boat with guests and crew who deny that the possibly murdered woman ever existed. As the protagonist’s anxiety increases, so will the reader’s. You can find my full review here.
  2. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn would be another great choice for October if you’re looking for a psychological thriller that’s more scary. In this one, like in The Couple Next Door, the suspects are also closer to home than the reader might expect.

Coming Up Next: I’m trying another psychological thriller to keep me in the Halloween spirit, this time Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Crammed full of philosophical thoughts and inexplicable coincidence, this short thriller certainly keeps readers on high alert. Check back soon for my full review.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Golden Son

Sequels never quite live up to expectations. Until now, that is. Golden Son, the phenomenal second book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy (you can find my review of the first book here), is one of the only sequels I’ve enjoyed even more than the first book in its series.

About the book: Darrow, a lowly Red turned Gold, has learned valuable lessons and gained formidable enemies at both the Institute and Academy, elite schools for Golds. He’s having difficulty staying in contact with the Sons of Ares, and when left to his own devices he forms a web of tenuous allegiances with all sorts of characters, many of whom dislike each other. Darrow juggles friends, schemes, and trust as he continues to battle for a spot of power at the top of the pyramid, where he will be of use to Ares. His connection with house Augustus has its ups and downs–working his way into the ArchGovernor’s good graces would be an immense help to Ares, but it seems the Sovereign may have plans of her own for the family that may derail Darrow’s efforts. The Golds, the marvelous Golds, aren’t getting along. Discord may be what Darrow desires, but can he avoid being crushed between them in a civil war?

goldenson

What sets it apart: Red Rising was incredible. In it, however, was one main challenge that persisted throughout the book: Darrow’s need to win the survival game at the Institute. There were other problems and plot twist that cropped up along the way, but those were nothing compared to the maze of intricate plot maneuvers through Golden Son. Darrow’s main problem has grown: lots of people want him dead now, and they’re coming from all directions. There is no safe place, no one he can trust, and yet he can’t win a fight on this scale without help. The contained conflict in the Institute was merely a taste of the horrible fight in the real world where he travels from ships and moons to whole planets that seem pitted against Darrow. The scale has been magnified a hundredfold.

Also, I love Darrow’s evolving view of Eo in this book. The fact that his first great love is dead prevents this story from developing into the usual sort of love story that evolves from a small group of people trying to save the world. But Brown makes a great literary move when he also refuses to let Eo become solely a symbol. Darrow admits that he was young when he fell in love with her. He notes other characters who disliked her. He sees that he doesn’t agree with her in every matter. Somehow, despite these revelations, he can’t let her go, and may even love her more as time passes despite her unrelenting absence. Eo is far from the most interesting character in these books, yet it is her presence and personality that make the entire story possible.

“How could so frail a girl have such a spirit, such a dream as freedom, when so many strong souls toiled and kept their heads down for fear of looking up?”

Worst aspect: I don’t like the instances when Darrow has a plan in the works and the reader isn’t allowed to know anything about it until he’s executing it. It feels like an easy way out for the narration to double back like that, to suddenly inform the reader that Darrow had done something to prepare for the seemingly hopeless circumstances that have befallen him, all without showing his hand to the reader. This technique allows the narration to stay true to the alternating uses of tension and surprise that come fast and heavy throughout the book, but tripping up the system every now and then might be worth allowing the reader at least a little foreshadowing and a chance to see at least the outline of the puzzle. One of Darrow’s friends claims that trying to figure him out is like trying to assemble a puzzle with missing pieces, and the book as a whole certainly feels that way at times.

Best aspect: This book is entirely unpredictable. There were a few plot twists I suspected, but somehow their execution still managed to shock me. Everything in this book is action and reaction and reaction, etc. so that even when one action is expected, it spirals out into something the reader could never have imagined. Maybe you guessed Eo’s secret or Ares’ identity in the first book–but even after the correct answer is revealed in Golden Son, just wait till you see what happens next, how it all fits together, what it means. Darrow is an astute judge of human character, always thinking and planning and counteracting others’ moves; something unsurprising may happen occasionally, but in response Darrow does nothing that fails to surprise. His very presence creates a whirlwind of events. There is no knowing what’s on the next page, and Darrow never disappoints.

“You are like one of the Old Conquerors. Charismatic and virtuous. When they look at you, they see none of the soft decadence of our meager time, none of the political poison that has saturated Luna…They will look at you and see a cleansing knife, a new day for a Second Golden Age.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I absolutely loved this book. I immediately wanted to pick up Morning Star, the final volume in the trilogy, but by the time I’d reached the end of Golden Son I couldn’t do anything but put down the book and try vainly to catch my breath. The final chapter is deceptive–leading the reader to believe that the story is winding down, that no matter how difficult the road ahead may still be, Darrow has achieved a step forward on his path to radical change. I was lulled into this impression of safety, and then all hell broke loose again. THAT CLIFFHANGER, THOUGH. The end of this book made me infinitely glad I did not try to start reading this series before all three books had been released. I can manage to pause and finish a couple of library books, secure in the knowledge that Morning Star, the final book in the trilogy, is waiting patiently on my shelf. I would not have been able to endure months of waiting for the next installment to be published. Even though I like the other books I’m reading in the meantime, the few days’ wait before I delve into Morning Star will be torturous.

Further recommendations:

  1. Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last is another excellent dystopian novel with plot twists that will leave you reeling. This one features a town that prospers by keeping half of its supposedly innocent population behind bars for six months, then switching the citizens out for the rest of the year to imprison the remaining half. This creates jobs that the economy can no longer provide, but it also opens up new avenues of corruption that will prove dangerous for our main characters.
  2. Caroline Kepnes’ You has virtually nothing in common with the Red Rising trilogy except for a deadly young male protagonist and a sequel just as magnificent as its opening volume. Joe Goldberg is just as fitting a stalker as Darrow is a revolutionary–that is to say that sometimes his plans go awry but he’s excellent at thinking on his feet and overcoming the impossible. You can read my complete review of this book here.

What’s next: Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door is a thriller about a young couple whose six month old daughter goes missing while the parents are next door at a dinner party. The problem is that only the four at the dinner should’ve known the baby would be alone, but they’re all accounted for. I’ll be posting a full review shortly, in case you need any further convincing.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now find my complete review of the next (and final) book in this series, Morning Star, here!

Review: Ender’s Game

If you’re not sure the science fiction genre is for you, if you’ve tried it before and given up, or if you know you like some sci-fi books but don’t know where to look next, check out Orson Scott Card’s novel, Ender’s Game. I, for one, am very selective with my sci-fi, but this is a book worth venturing into the genre for. With such thrilling and psychological elements, it’s an exciting read for all kinds of literature lovers, even those on the fence about science fiction works.

About the book: At some point in the future, Earth has been invaded twice by “buggers,” an insect-like alien race that poses a terrible threat to humanity. In response, an international military group based deep in space has been mining the human population for intelligent children to attend specialized battle schooling that will hopefully provide humanity with a genius commander to take control of Earth’s galactic fleet and win the Third Invasion. Ender is one such child, hand-selected for battle and command lessons that use ruthless war games to teach the young boy how to lead and win. Ender shows such promise that the other students would like to eliminate him to improve their own chances of winning the games. Ender, however, knows that the games themselves are not the point of the exercises, and uses his quick observations and strategic brilliance not only to rise through the ranks of the school, but to ensure his own survival among the horde of remarkable and vicious children. If he can succeed, Ender will bear the entire future of humanity on his shoulders, but the only alternative seems to be to die trying.endersgame

“Humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant on its behalf. Survival first, then happiness as we can manage it.”

Ender’s Game is one of the most traditionally sci-fi books I’ve ever read. Usually I’m not particularly interested in aliens or space battle strategies, and some of the explanation of the buggers was almost too much for me, but despite all of these details the science doesn’t weigh this book down. So much of Ender’s Game is focused on human nature and motivation that the characters become the true life force of the novel. Ender is an exceptionally wise boy who observes every move that his friends and enemies make and discerns the reasoning behind each of them. Not only does he understand why people act the way they do, but he uses that knowledge to learn from them and decide how he should act in response. Every detail is relevant.

“Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth.”

Another reason the science part of this fiction fades into the background for me is that as the title suggests, most of Ender’s schooling and relationship with the potential Third Invasion is presented as a game. To learn battle strategies and space conditions the students participate in mock skirmishes under null gravity settings. Many of the students fail to recognize that the game is a training mechanism and become too focused on becoming top scorers.

“Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”

It is a little jarring, in the first few chapters, to see six year-old Ender acting like a much-older child and thinking like an adult. Attention is repeatedly drawn to the drastic times and the new ways of life on Earth, but it is still hard to accept  that Ender could be so advanced and yet so young. This bothered me through much of the book. If I could change one thing about this story, I would make the battle school entry age two years higher, so our story begins with Ender at 8 rather than 6. A small detail, and my proposed change is only a small attempt at solution, but it nagged at me.

On the other side of the spectrum, I especially enjoyed the beginnings of each chapter, where dialogue of the adults in charge is presented. The dynamic of adult military leaders discussing the possibility that students much younger than them may be part of the commanding team to would save the human race is particularly intriguing. That full grown men would work toward saving the human race not by perfecting their own abilities but by perfecting others’ from an incredibly young age–essentially raising from birth the potential saviors of humanity–lends an extra layer to this futuristic world. To see a bit of both sides of this relationship is the perfect touch in rounding out the narration.

“Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to be controlled by good people, by people who love you.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I was wary going into this story after having read its premise. So many of the details that classify this book as science fiction appear in the premise, but personally I think the beauty of the story lies in the other elements that are highlighted by the futuristic science aspects–the close examination of human nature, the incredible power dangled in front of children and bestowed by humbled adults, etc. I wouldn’t have discovered those wonderful features of Ender’s Game at all if I hadn’t seen this novel recommended in conjunction (in separate instances) with both Ready Player One and Red Rising, both of which I read and loved in September. I whole-heartedly recommend these three as a set (see recommendations below). They’re all unique stories, but if you like one, there’s a good chance you’ll like the others, and you don’t want to miss these.

Further Recommendations:

  1. Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One features a virtual game with high stakes in reality for many, including main character and top player, Wade Watts. This one is also set in a futuristic world, but the only spaceships Wade has access to are the simulated ones inside the OASIS, the world’s largest virtual reality simulation game. For some, winning the most epic game ever invented isn’t just a means of entertainment–it’s a battle that’ll mean the difference between life and death. You can read my complete review of this book here.
  2. The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown is another game-oriented read for lovers of Ender’s Game. Although this game is part of an extreme dystopian story and there is nothing virtual about it, the book is designed to reveal shocking and intriguing facets of human nature by forcing special teens into bizarre and deadly circumstances, much like the games of Ender’s training days. You can read my complete review of this book here.

What’s next: I’ve just finished reading Golden Son, the second book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. For those of you who have already read Red Rising, keep an eye out for more great reasons to carry on with the rest of the trilogy. For those of you who haven’t, (get on that, and then) stay tuned for my review of Shari Lapena’s debut thriller, The Couple Next Door, which I’m nearly finished reading and will also be posting about soon.

What great fall reads are you checking out this October? Feel free to leave me your recommendations!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Sept. Book Haul + Wrap-Up + Oct. TBR

Despite a few setbacks, I finished reading some fantastic books this month, and I can’t wait to show you what’s on the upcoming roster! Below you’ll find: the books I acquired throughout the course of the month (including a pic of my book haul stack), the books I completed in September, and my anticipated line-up for October.

New Books:

  1. Golden Son by Pierce Brown. I’d barely begun the first chapter of Red Rising when I knew I had to read the rest of this trilogy. By the time I’d finished the first book, I knew I needed to buy them, not just borrow them, so I ordered this one (the second book) and:
  2. Morning Star by Pierce Brown. The reviews for this trilogy just keep getting better as the books go on, and I’m already highly anticipating the spin-off series that’s tentatively set to have its first book released in 2017. I’ll have to find a copy of Red Rising at some point, too, but for now I’m just so excited about these imminent reads.
  3. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I ordered this from Book Depository with the Pierce Brown books because it’s way to easy to find a great add-on to a book order. I skimmed through quite a few options before settling on this exciting thriller I’ve been debating buying for a while, and it was a relatively cheap hardcover on this site, so I figured this was my chance.
  4. Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly Mcmillan (aka What She Knew). This one was a separate Book Depository buy. I was looking at this one when I placed my first order and then a few days later it was way on sale and I couldn’t pass it up. It has the UK title and cover instead of the US one; I usually care more about the contents than the aesthetic, but I do like the look of this one better, if I had to choose.
  5. The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee. I shouldn’t buy books that are going to be part of a series when only the first one has been published so far. This one’s a futuristic YA book, and I don’t know much else about it yet, but the few YA books that I’ve read lately have put me in a mood to catch up in that genre and here’s a nice shiny new one to get me back in the game. As far as YA goes, I usually prefer a series to a stand-alone, because if I like them enough to continue on, they’re quick and fun, and if I don’t, I can cross a whole chunk of titles off my potential reads list. As much as I’d like to be caught up with what’s new, though, I also hate having to stop in the middle of a series because the next chapter doesn’t exist yet, so I’m not sure yet when I’ll try to read this one.
  6. The Perfect Girl by Gilly Mcmillan. This is actually the first book I heard of by this author. I thought I might like Burnt Paper Sky more, which is why I picked up that one first, but then I couldn’t help picking this one up later in the month.
  7. The Lakotas and the Black Hills by Jeffrey Ostler. I made a quick road trip with a friend this month to see some of the highlights of South Dakota, which included the Black Hills and the legendary birthplace of the Lakota (Native American) tribe, Wind Cave. I picked up this book to learn a little more about the legends of some of the places I visited and some of the things I didn’t have a chance to see yet–so I’ll be ready for next time! This should give me a healthy dose of nonfiction literature and national history.
  8. Nerve by Jeanne Ryan. I’ve been on the fence about this one for a while, but I finally decided to pick it up. It was cheap, I was in the mood, that’s it for the story with this one.
  9. The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. When I first saw this one a couple of years ago I thought it would be perfect for my brother, but I ended up not buying it because he doesn’t really read. Now that more of the series is available and I’ve heard such great things about it, I’m going to give it a chance and then maybe try coaxing him into it. I wasn’t sure it was my type when I first saw it, but the premise has grown on me. I think we’ll hit it off, The 5th Wave and I.

septemberbooks

Although I bought some great books recently, I haven’t read any of them yet. I did surpass my goal of reading six books this month though; I finished all six of the books I’d planned to read, plus two extras. Here’s what I read in September:

  1. Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I didn’t anticipate loving this trilogy as much as I do. I picked this as my first September read thinking it would be quick and easy to get through, a nice break between my last August read (Brave New World, which was a heavier story) and all of the fun end-of-summer books I was really looking forward to delving into later in the month. But Red Rising turned out to be a surprising highlight of September and I can’t wait to continue with the series. You can find my full review of this book here. I gave 5 stars.
  2. Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs. In hindsight, I should’ve maybe reread this one’s predecessors. I read both of the first books in the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series soon after they were released, and it became quickly apparent to me in Library of Souls that I remembered very little about their plots. Although I’m great at remembering my reactions to books, I’m horrible at recalling plot details. I had to pause in the first chapter to go back and find some spoilers online to refresh my memory, but once I’d done that the third book was quick and entertaining to finish, and I remembered how much I’d enjoyed this series from the beginning. I’d like to buy them as a set and reread them all together someday when I have the time, but for now I’m glad to have reached the conclusion of a fascinating trilogy. I love that this one incorporates real vintage photos into its story, just one of the norm-defying elements to this great YA set. I gave 5 stars.
  3. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda. The premise of this one really hooked me–a murder mystery told backward. For the first half I thought the story was really going to disappoint me, but the plot became so convoluted and truly unpredictable toward the end that I couldn’t put it down. I may have to check out some of Megan Miranda’s other books, which are more geared toward YA, but hopefully just as thrilling. You can find my complete review for All the Missing Girls here. I gave 4 stars.
  4. The Killing Forest by Sara Blaedel. This is the second book published in English from Danish crime writer Blaedel’s series set in Denmark. I read the first book earlier this year (you can find my complete review of The Forgotten Girls here), and thought that the series held promise though the first book fell a little flat for me. This one was a definite improvement. Click here for my complete review. I gave 4 stars.
  5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This one was a surprising win for me. I kept putting it off, thinking I wouldn’t understand or like it enough, but I was so impressed by how much tension was crammed into a book about someone playing a video game, and I impressed myself by understanding a lot more game and 80’s references than I expected to. Definitely one of my favorite books of the year, and highly recommended. Click here for my complete review. I gave 5 stars.
  6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I was also surprised by how much I liked this one. I had only a basic idea of the themes in this book before starting, but even as I grew more and more horrified with the subject matter and how far the plot was advancing, I also became more appreciative of the main character, who seemed to be losing his mind for his inappropriate love. This is no slow, stuffy classic; Lolita is delightfully disturbing and will change the way you look at the world, or at least some of the people in it. I gave 5 stars.
  7. Cinder by Marissa Meyer. I remember when this book first came out. I was still in high school. I probably would’ve really enjoyed reading it then, but for some reason I’ve been putting it off for years. This YA series, the Lunar Chronicles, features futuristic updates of well-known fairy tales. That was not something that appealed to me in 2012, and I thought it would be too predictable–everyone already knows how the fairy tales end. I’ve seen almost nothing but good reviews for this series, though, and I do plan to read more YA as this year comes to a close, so I thought it was finally time to give this one a try; I was pleased to discover that despite some minor issues, I was surprised at nearly every turn. You can find my complete review here. I gave 4 stars.
  8. The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane. Somehow I was lucky enough to find a gorgeous copy of this book for less than $3 in July. That bumped this novel way up on my to-read list, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed what was between the covers as much as how they were decorated. The secluded Australian coast setting lent a perfect early fall vibe to this novel–not the biting cold of Midwest US winter, but not the bustling, crowded beaches of Australian summer, either. And this story messes with the mind, which is a great sort of tale this time of year. You can find my complete review here. I gave 5 stars.
  9. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. This one had been on my radar for a few years but I was in no hurry to read it until I’d seen it referred to in conjunction with Red Rising and Ready Player One, both of which I loved earlier this month. I’m usually not a big sci-fi reader, and parts of this book reminded me why, but I did enjoy it and was glad I finally gave it a chance. I’ll probably check out the sequel at some point. You can find my complete review here.

I keep worrying that having a specific TBR is going to backfire for me, but I was continually impressed by how well it was working out for me in September. I assigned myself a lower number of books (6) than in August (10) because while reading 9-10 books a month is not completely unusual for me, it’s not typical. My average is probably closer to 5, but I’ve been so psyched for all of my book picks lately that I’ve been reading like crazy. Not only was I motivated to read everything on my list for September and work ahead a little, but the books I had assigned myself kept exceeding my expectations, leaving me even more excited about the next choices I’d planned. What I thought was a list of good books turned out to be a list of great books, and they’ve made me even more excited about planning my next reads. I’ll be forging my way through this next list starting immediately, and I’ve decided to plan a relatively high number again in case my reading streak continues. Without further ado, here’s my October TBR:

  1. Golden Son by Pierce Brown. October is a month for fantasy and thrillers–a bit of the otherworldy, and all the creepy vibes. A couple of the characters from the first book of this trilogy struck me as pretty creepy (I’m  anxiously awaiting their return in this sequel), and the futuristic Mars setting definitely qualifies it as otherworldly. Also, the cover just looks perfect for fall, dark and gold with a hint of red orange. I’m so excited to read this one, and I think this will be a great time of year for it.
  2. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. Speaking of thrillers, how about one where you can’t trust your own neighbors? Perfect just before Halloween. I’ve been highly anticipating this one for about a month, and now is the time to read it.
  3. The Revenant by Michael Punke. I think this one is going to be a great cold-weather read, and by the middle of October I think I’ll be cold enough. Also, I’m planning to finally see this movie next month, so I want to read it before then. It’s been a little while since my last historical fiction read, so I’m excited to dip my toes in that water again, especially as back-to-school season is well upon us (historical fiction always feels a bit educational to me).
  4. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. This one’s a psychological thriller dealing with a character who can’t stop thinking about ending her relationship, though there seems to be no reason to do so. I believe the couple is stuck somewhere on a trip together, which I think will be unusual and intriguing. October is a month for monsters, and what more frightening monster is there than the darkness in oneself?
  5. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Here’s my YA read of the month, a true fantasy novel because I had to have one of those on my October list. I’m actually planning to pick up additional YA books this month if I reach the end of my official TBR, but I’m not sure which ones yet. This one, though, was my top YA pick for October because of the fall-colored cover, the fantasy genre, and the (rather embarrassing) fact that I haven’t ready any Sarah J. Maas yet.
  6. Morning Star by Pierce Brown. If I were a rational reader, I would drag out this trilogy a little longer, but I barely restrained myself from throwing my September TBR out the window to continue with it in September, and I know after reading Golden Son I won’t be able to put off this third book very long now that it’s in my hands. If I end up getting a little behind schedule this month though, this is the one I’ll try leaving on the back burner until November.
  7. Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. Here’s an extra YA book I am planning to read this month, though I wasn’t willing to count it is the YA pick of October since it’s a sequel. I want to continue on in the Lunar Chronicles series, but I have so many other books I want to read in October that I don’t think I’ll get farther than this second book within the month. Even so, I think Meyer’s futuristic fairy tale world will be a good fit for this time of year.
  8. Dracula by Bram Stoker. Last but not least, my most Halloween-ish pick of the month. I bought this a few years ago with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which I read and loved, but I haven’t gotten around to this one yet. Despite all the new books I want to read so badly, it’s important to me to keep up with my classics list, as well, and this one jumped out at me while I was planning this TBR. I think a monster tale would make a perfect read for the end of the month, and if you’re going for vampires, what better choice than the quintessential vampire book? I can hardly wait.

What are you reading in October? Which creepy, otherworldly, or monster stories should I keep in mind for next year, or even early November? I would love to hear your recommendations! I hope you’re as excited for this new month of reading as I am. If you need me, I’ll be turning pages.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant