Tag Archives: supernatural

Review: In the Tall Grass (short story and film)

Spooky October continues with more Stephen King for me! I saw a few weeks ago that In the Tall Grass (based on the short story by Stephen King and Joe Hill) was coming to Netflix in early October, and immediately made plans to read and watch. I didn’t get around to the story before the film arrived, but I had a lot of fun reading and watching on the same day. I’ll share some thoughts on both.

First, the short story. In the Tall Grass seems to be very readily available on ebook and audio, but it is also FREE online at Esquire, where the story was first published in 2012. It’s divided into two parts, but the end of the first part links to the second, so if you’re interested in checking out the story I’ll link the beginning portion here! (Feel free to ignore that Esquire’s purpose seems to be “fiction for men.”)

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In this short story, the narration alternates perspective between a pair of siblings: Becky and Cal. They’re not twins, but are very close. Becky is pregnant, and is on her way to San Diego to give her baby to another family for adoption. Cal is driving her cross country. They make an unplanned stop in Kansas next to a field of tall grass, where they happen to hear a boy calling for help. Assuming that he’s lost and too short to find the road, Cal and Becky decide to wade in and help.

What follows is at first suspenseful, as the siblings realize something isn’t right with the grass and against all odds they seem to be getting lost in it as well. Soon after, the story takes a horrifying turn as the secrets of the grass and their own fates are revealed. Needless to say, there’s a supernatural element involved.

“He looked at his watch and wasn’t surprised to see it had stopped even though it was a self-winder. The grass had stopped it. He felt sure of it.”

The story is quite good. I’ve yet to read anything full-length by Joe Hill (even though I’m sure I’m going to love his work), but I enjoyed this story more than the last five full-length novels I’ve read from Stephen King. It’s readable, sharp, and great at dropping creepy hints for the reader’s imagination to run with. If you like horror or suspense, or just a great short story, I highly recommend checking it out.

If you have any interest in reading the story, I really think the best time for it is prior to watching the Netflix film.

Image result for in the tall grass

In the film, we see at first a faithful adaptation of the written story. Some of the dialogue is word-for-word, the setting is exactly the same, any small variations in the setup are minor and seem mostly to cater to the visual aspect of the new format. But soon the film becomes a whole different beast. This comes down to two main differences:

  1. The film expands upon all of those subtle hints dropped in the story. This means both that some of the grass’s secrets are spoken aloud or clearly depicted for the reader, but it also means the addition of a new character who is only mentioned in the story. Though I thought the story was great for holding back from oversharing, I also thought the film was great for refusing to shy away from the details. I wouldn’t have wanted it the other way around. But I imagine the story would feel quite anticlimactic in its subtlety after seeing the film take everything a step further, which is the main reason I recommend reading first if you’re interested in both mediums.
  2. The cyclical nature of the grass “ritual” is a bit different in the film. In the story, I had the sense that the cycle was a very realistic one, with each victim of the grass paving the way for the next in a chronological line. In the film, a nonlinear timeline creates the cycle rather than hints of past or future victims. Timelines- actually, characters that skip around through time- are not always effective for me, but this layout paves the way for some great characterization tricks, and the brevity of the film keeps the jumping timeline from feeling tedious and ridiculous. A surprising win.

These are the two elements that allow a 60-page short story to become a 1 hr 40 min film- the film essentially turns the basic idea of the story into a long novella or short novel, and it does so without contradicting any part of the written story. They really make for a great set, if you enjoy adaptations and comparisons as much as I do.

Both formats are atmospheric, creepy, and engrossing. You might think from the premise that you know enough to resist being surprised, but there will still be surprises. There’s one pretty gross scene that appears in both formats, though I found the written version of it more gruesome. I spotted the detail of the synopsis that had the most potential to go awry, and knowing in advance helped me get through it, so at the risk of a very mild spoiler (just skip ahead to the next paragraph now if you absolutely don’t want to know) I’ll mention that it has to do with the pregnancy. If you don’t want to read anything weird on that subject, maybe steer clear of this one.

“The grass has things to tell you. You just need to learn to listen.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. For both formats. I didn’t find anything wrong with either, and actually the one gross scene didn’t bother me as much (in the story or film) as the rats in Stephen King’s 1922 (in that story or corresponding Netflix film). I just very rarely give a short story a 5-star rating because I tend to prefer more characterization and exploration than often seem to fit in a short story, and though I thought the film was perfect for October I don’t think it’s going on my all-time favorites list, which are the only movies I would say are 5-stars for me. But I had an excellent time with both formats, and the only nightmare I had after was an unrelated airplane dream.

So, all in all, if you’re looking for a little Stephen King or Joe Hill to pick up this spooky season and don’t want to dive into a doorstopper of a novel, In the Tall Grass is a great shorter option. I think it would also be a good introduction to either author if you’re interested in checking out their work but not sure where to start.

Have you read or watched this one? What did you think?

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Outsider

CW: murder (including child murder), pedophilia, sexual abuse of children (occurring off the page only).

Alongside other projects, I spent September buddy reading Stephen King’s The Outsider, one of King’s most recent releases which has recently been named the start of a new series of unknown length, the Holly Gibney series. I highly recommend reading the Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch) before picking this one up, if you’re at all interested in reading those books. For me The Outsider was a definite improvement after the concluding novels of the Bill Hodges trilogy, but still doesn’t rank among my King faves, sadly.

theoutsiderIn the novel, Terry Maitland, upstanding citizen, local teacher, and boys’ little league baseball coach, is accused of a heinous crime. An eleven year-old boy has been brutally violated and murdered, and witnesses plus DNA put Maitland at the scene of the crime. Except at the same time as this child was murdered, Maitland was attending an event in another town, where his presence is not only recorded on audio and video, but televised as well. Was Maitland framed? Does he have a long-lost twin? Has he somehow discovered how to be in two places at once? A few sleuths begin a deeper exploration, and find that the case just gets weirder the more they learn. There may be a supernatural force at work.

” ‘There is nothing to confess to, sir. I didn’t kill Frankie Peterson. I would never hurt a child. You have the wrong man.’

Samuels sighed and stood up. ‘Okay, you had your chance. Now… God help you.’ “

The first half of this book was gearing up to be a 5-star favorite Stephen King for me. It revolves around interesting but disturbing real-world issues: child murder, pedophilia, wrongful accusations/convictions, truth vs. public opinion. The supernatural element is actually scary. Admittedly it doesn’t paint women in the best light (Stephen King is not good at writing female characters in general, in my opinion), but there weren’t any really offensive sexist comments, or any other offensive content. The writing, as always, is readable and engrossing, making the pages fly by. It was the perfect pre-October read to put me in the mood for Halloween horrors.

I know plenty of Constant Readers dislike King’s endings (a phenomenon that gets a hilarious spotlight in the It: Chapter Two film, by the way), but I don’t usually have that problem. So I grew more and more disappointed as I realized the second half of this story was going to be a flop for me. Here’s what went wrong:

1 – Though I usually enjoy King’s tendency of referencing details from his previous novels, they’re usually small nods that anyone who hasn’t read his older work likely won’t even notice. In The Outsider, he abandons the subtle nod by including a main character from the Bill Hodges trilogy (I won’t say which, to avoid spoiling End of Watch for anyone who doesn’t already know), and specifically mentioning details from each of the three criminal cases covered in that trilogy. The crossover character even wins over an ally by recapping the results of that trilogy for him- there are mild spoilers in the text, and I imagine anyone who hasn’t read Bill Hodges will also be annoyed to find events they’re unfamiliar with playing such a key role in this supposedly standalone story. Even having read those books prior to The Outsider so that I understood the references, I found their weight in this completely separate plot somewhat bothersome.

2 – As the pieces of the mystery begin to come together, we start to see some small plot holes, especially as Maitland’s case begins to look a lot like other, similar cases. Relatedly, King falls into his old bad habit of allowing his characters to reach convenient conclusions. Somehow, in the midst of a plot that’s trying to prove there’s “no end to the universe” (meaning anything is possible), these sleuths are jumping to annoyingly correct assumptions. The mystery all but solves itself.

3 – It’s probably realistic for police, lawyers, investigators, etc. to close their minds against evidence of the supernatural, but the otherworldly element of this novel is very clear to the reader; thus the constant naysaying from the unbelievers gets old fast.

“A person did what a person could, whether it was setting up gravestones or trying to convince twenty-first century men and women that there were monsters in the world, and their greatest advantage was the unwillingness of rational people to believe.”

4 – The oh-so-very-promising monster that succeeded in creeping me out early on turns out to be sadly unimpressive in the flesh. For a creature that seems so powerful, violent, and unknowable (there are some frustrating “we may never know…” remarks about it that feel like cop-outs), the final showdown is surprisingly uneventful. Though I find it very possible that a supernatural monster would be unknowable to humans if one were indeed to intrude upon our reality, the way that the narration approaches the creature toward the end of the novel left me feeling that King just hadn’t taken the time to get to know his own creation very well.

The only other point worth mentioning is the unclear “purpose” of the story. Clearly The Outsider is primarily meant for entertainment, and to that regard the focus on “no end to the universe” does the trick; I think X-Files fans would like this one. But I’m a little concerned that one of the takeaways here might be that no matter how guilty a man might look he’s probably been framed by an elusive supernatural being. Not that King seems to be at all suggesting that something like this supernatural tale is occurring under our noses in the real world, but the case does start off so realistically, with such interesting commentary on guilt and public opinion, that I wonder if there might have been a more tasteful way of incorporating this supernatural element without casting doubt on the guilt of murderers and pedophiles?

“Reality is thin ice, but most people skate on it their whole lives and never fall through until the very end.”

Despite these flaws, The Outsider was still a fun read for me, at the very least. A few of the scenes really were quite spooky to be reading alone at night, which is an effect I enjoy and don’t come across very often. Some of the story takes place in a condemned cave, which is appropriately atmospheric. There are a few major deaths to keep things interesting, and one of King’s favorite climax types: a blaze of guns and gore and damage. I also read the ending as slightly ambiguous, concerning the fate of the monster, which is really the best way to handle supernatural aspects, in my opinion. So, if you’re just looking for a spooky good time that you’re not planning to look at too closely, you could certainly do worse. It’s not a Stephen King masterpiece, but it is a unique story.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I was so sad that ending didn’t hold up here. I’m still glad I finally got around to reading this one, and I’m definitely still on board for more Stephen King. Hopefully I’ll manage to fit The Institute into my schedule in a more timely manner! I’m planning on picking up Firestarter later this month, and The Institute sometime thereafter.

Do you have a least favorite Stephen King novel?

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: Elevation

Stephen King had a brand new book published at the end of October, and as a long-time fan of his writing I had to pick it up. I got around to it about halfway through November. It was a one-sitting book, less than 150 pages, which made it impossible to pass up. King’s books usually run so long that a novel of this size from him is a true curiosity.

elevationAbout the book: Scott pays a visit to his old doctor– retired, but still a favorite for medical advice– when he notices a strange trend: though he doesn’t look any different, he’s steadily losing weight. His eating habits haven’t changed; if anything, he’s eating more than he used to, but the numbers on the scale keep going down. More alarmingly, they don’t go up when he steps on the scale with a pocketful of quarters or heavy dumbbells in his hands. As Scott continues to feel lighter and healthier, he’s also trying to befriend the lesbian couple next door that he’s accidentally gotten into a neighborly feud with. There’s no telling what will happen to Scott when the scale hits zero, so his time to make amends for a bad first impression is running out.

“This isn’t just outside my experience, I’d say it’s outside human experience. Hell, I want to say it’s impossible.”

Right away I noticed that Elevation felt a bit gimmicky. Like Stephen King enjoying his fame, publishing because he can, because anything he turns out is going to be a hit even if it’s not a hit. There’s not a lot of meat to this story, but more unusually, there’s not much of the excellent character portrayal and development that Stephen King is known for.

One particular problem I had with Elevation is best explained in conjunction with previous experience; I read Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties earlier this year and noticed that the social commentary was a lot more pointed than I was used to in King’s older novels. As the book was co-written and I had no experience with Owen King’s work, I thought maybe that wasn’t Stephen King’s doing, or at least not entirely. But I had the same issue with Elevation: the social and political commentary is so very on-the-nose. Essentially, the lesbian couple living next to Scott is facing prejudice from the entire town that is strong enough to potentially ruin their business within the year; as Scott tries to befriend them he sees the error of his earlier assumptions and encourages the other townspeople to accept them as well. The moralistic plot is predictable and obvious, Scott’s personal dilemma providing him with an excuse to see the situation from a new and comparable light:

“Why feel bad about what you couldn’t change? Why not embrace it?”

Furthermore, I’m not sure why this book is labeled as horror at all- the weight-loss concept is a bit weird and disturbing, but it’s not presented in a horrifying way. Scott seems to completely accept what is happening to him, and it fades into the background of the story as the situation with the neighbors takes precedence.

With the illustrations at the start of every chapter and the small size of the physical book (in addition to the abovementioned lack of subtlety and horror), Elevation seemed a bit like it wanted to be a children’s book. The entire story seemed a bit confused about its intended direction. If not for King’s name on the cover, I doubt this book would’ve seen much success.

“Not a wind, not even a high, exactly, but an elevation. A sense that you had gone beyond yourself and could go further still.”

And yet, it wasn’t a bad read either. Despite the fact that I kept expecting more from it, the story held my attention from cover to cover, surprising me in a few places and amusing me in others. It had so much potential for disaster, but as always, Stephen King pulls everything together in a uniquely interesting way.

Bonus points for the Pennywise reference.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. This was an easy and acceptable read, though not particularly impressive. It helped me out of the reading slump that I’d been in for half the month (which, ironically, stemmed from my dislike for another novel in The Bachman Books, also written by Stephen King).

Further recommendations:

  • If you enjoyed (or look forward to enjoying) Elevation‘s short simplicity and wacky premise, you’ll probably also like King’s short co-written novel, Gwendy’s Button BoxGwendy’s takes place in the same town as Elevation (and gets an obscure mention in Elevation as well, if you’re interested in reading chronologically and want to pick up Gwendy’s first, though it’s not at all necessary to  read in that order to understand these stories) and is also a book that looks at morality and interpersonal relationships with a bizarre supernatural premise running in the background: a box of buttons that give its holder immense power over the entire world.

Is there an author whose books you pick up immediately upon publication, no matter what they’re about? Does that ever backfire for you?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: City of Fallen Angels

I finally picked up Cassandra Clare’s fourth book in the Mortal Instruments series, the fifth book she published: City of Fallen Angels. I won’t spoil anything from this one, as usual, but if you haven’t read the first three books in this series (City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass) you should probably check those out first, just in case.

Now, I was pretty darn sure I had stopped after reading the first three in this set, the original trilogy, but I kept having moments of something like deja vu while I was reading this one. I wonder if I did read this one when it was first published and have just somehow blocked it mostly from my mind, because the plot didn’t feel as familiar to me as in the first three books, but there were definitely some people and details that made me think, “Oh yeah, I knew that;” I’m not sure how else I could have known about Simon’s fourteen year-old fan and the return of Maia’s ex-boyfriend and Jace returning to the Silent City. So the jury’s still out on how new of an experience this book was, but I can certainly say I enjoyed it.

FullSizeRender (13)About the book: Clary is finally undergoing proper Shadowhunter training, but she’s still nowhere near as skilled as her friends–except at drawing runes. Jace should be having the time of his life now that he can have a legitimate relationship with the girl he loves, but other things keep getting in the way. He’s having nightmares that leave him afraid of being around her at all. Meanwhile, Simon is feeling the long-standing Nephilim prejudice against Downworlders and vampires in particular, though he doesn’t exactly fit in with them, either. Maia’s past comes back to bite her–or maybe it already has. Isabelle is coming to terms with her place in her family, with her friends, and maybe with her boyfriend, if he’ll stop two-timing her. Alec is also having boyfriend issues, but they’ve been hidden behind a lot of traveling and the standard Magnus glitter. With everyone dealing with their own problems, it’s difficult for them all to realize how the dreams, the dead Shadowhunters, the new (old) vampire in town, and Sebastian’s fate all tie together in a disturbing way that concerns them all.

“…it didn’t matter; the world, the city, and all its lights and life seemed to have narrowed down to this, just her and Jace, the burning heart of a frozen world.”

One way in which this book feels disparate from City of Glass (book 3) is its use of new plot. There are significant details from prior events in this series that come back in City of Fallen Angels, but whereas City of Glass was originally the end of a trilogy with everything from those first three books all coming together inside it, City of Fallen Angels feels like the beginning of something new rather than a continuation of what came before. It seems more like City of Bones, when the group is setting off on an adventure they don’t really understand yet; little mysterious things are happening but it doesn’t all make sense until the last hundred pages or so. And then it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger that will definitely connect this volume to further books. I didn’t expect this one to feel so much like the beginning of a second trilogy, but it does.

On another note, I did not like the weird Clary/Jace situation in this book. It just seems so pointless to me when two people in a book who love each other can’t just talk about their problems and they let them spiral out of control instead until they’re forced to talk about the problems eventually anyway. Exceptions to this rule usually involve a third party who is protected along with the secrets, but there’s no third party here. So that was frustrating, but it did eventually right itself. And really, after the happy ending for Clace at the end of the third book, I’m not surprised to see new problems with very little backbone arriving between them because where can you go from perfection? Everything going right makes for a boring book. I just hope Cassandra Clare has something more substantial in mind for them in the upcoming volumes.

“What they had wasn’t ordinary, or subject to the ordinary rules of relationship and breakups. They belonged to each other totally, and always would, and that was that. But maybe everyone felt that way? Until the moment they realized they were just like everyone else, and everything they’d thought was real shattered apart.”

A side warning: Do not try to look up reminders on who’s who in the Shadowhunter series if you haven’t already read it all. Cassandra Clare ties lots of details together between books and series within the Shadowhunter realm, and it is apparently impossible to double check details online without being spoiled on what’s still coming. This has been a bigger problem for me with the Clockwork series than the Mortal Instruments, but it’s definitely worth noting, and highly annoying.

That said, while I was reading this one, I did really love the connections I spotted to Clockwork Angel, and it seemed like even though I could recognize some names and details from that companion trilogy there may be even more hints at plot points from the Infernal Devices that would be fun to see after having read all of those books, rather than just the previous books in publication order. Cassandra Clare is one of my favorite authors when it comes to cross-novel references to her other works; that level of detail really brings a world to life, and I wish it happened more often in fiction. I like to think of fiction as one giant multiverse, and I wish different parts of it bled together more often.

In the Shadowhunter world, that aspect is especially great because the main characters are all somewhat connected (so far, anyway) so the references to what happened in the past has more emotional appeal and seeing seeds laid in the Infernal Devices trilogy for what will come into New York in the future is also exciting. It’s like the ripple in the pond, every action affecting what comes after it.

Don’t you know better? Hearts are breakable. And I think even when you heal, you’re never what you were before.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I was worried about this one after I didn’t like Clockwork Angel as much as I’d expected, but it turned out there was nothing to worry about. I’m invested in the Shadowhunter world all over again, and even though I’m still wary because my next Clare book will be Clockwork Prince, back in the Infernal Devices trilogy which I wasn’t loving as much this time around, I cannot wait to find out how that series will improve and then get back to the Mortal Instruments for another exciting round of demon-slaying in Brooklyn.

Further recommendations:

  1. The Magicians by Lev Grossman is more adult than YA, deals with magic in a more scientific/mathematical way than the supernatural nature of the Shadowhunter world, but it contains an interesting band of friends on a magical adventure, fighting the Beast and learning about a secret magical world.

What’s next: I’m currently reading my classic of the month, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in college, and always was a bit sad that my high school didn’t have more mandatory reading of classics like that. So I’m getting around to it now on my own. I will add my thoughts on this one to my monthly wrap-up, but my next full review post will feature Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger, the thrilling just-published companion to All the Missing Girls, a murder mystery told backward. I hope this new edition to the set will be just as interesting.

Which new releases are high on your radar at the moment?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant.

Update: you can now read my complete review of the next book in this series, City of Lost Souls!

Review: Clockwork Angel

One of my big goals has been to read all of Cassandra Clare’s novels in publication order, including the ones I read years ago and the ones I’ve never read at all. Last week I made time for her fourth book, which is also the first book in the Infernal Devices trilogy, Clockwork Angel. This one I have read before, though I remember it very little and had a vastly different experience than I recall from the first time.

About the book: Tessa Gray’s parents died inclockworkangel her childhood. Now, almost an adult, the aunt who raised Tessa is also gone. A letter and steamship ticket from her brother bring Tessa to Victorian London. When she arrives, she is met by the Dark Sisters, “friends” of her brother’s, who take her away and force her to use her strange magical power to prevent any harm coming to her brother, whom they’ve supposedly imprisoned, as well. Luckily, the Dark Sisters are part of a larger supernatural mystery involving the Pandemonium Club, and so she is found and aided by the local Institute’s Shadowhunters. Even they, however, find uses for Tessa’s power and they tell her all manner of truths about Shadowhunters and Downworld that turn her life upside down while they all work to put a stop to the Pandemonium Club and save Tessa’s brother. Most unusual is the fact that their enemies are neither demonic nor angelic–someone has been creating an army of dangerous clockwork creatures that pose a new and challenging threat to them all because the usual protections against demons do not hinder them. Can a few orphaned Shadowhunters and the young heads of the Institute bring justice to light while they’re also being attacked by this mysterious enemy?

” ‘Sometimes,’ Jem said, ‘our lives can change so fast that the change outpaces our minds and hearts. It’s those times, I think, when our lives have altered but we still long for the time before everything was altered–that is when we feel the greatest pain. I can tell you, though, from experience, you grow accustomed to it. You learn to live your new life, and you can’t imagine, or even really remember, how things were before.’ “

There are some great characters in this series. The Victorian London setting is fun and atmospheric. The plot is complex and unpredictable. There are clear differences between the writing of this book and Clare’s earlier novels that set it apart. I remember loving this book more than any of the Mortal Instruments books I had finished before reading Clockwork Angel for the first time. And yet… when I reread it last week, there were a lot of things I disliked about Clockwork Angel.

The biggest problem I had this time around was finding everyone so much more unpleasant than I remembered. I was highly put off for several hundred pages by the rude things many of the characters said about or to each other. They talked about each other behind their backs, insulted them to their faces, shared personal secrets without permission, etc. Even though they made nice gestures like caring for each other while ill and fighting together when a dangerous enemy appeared, I loathed the way these characters acted around each other. I know Jace can come across as rude or uncaring in the Mortal Instruments, but somehow Will’s comments just seemed so much worse in this book. It didn’t matter to me that another character would claim he didn’t mean what he said, he still said some horrid things I couldn’t condone even as jokes or self-preservation. People’s feelings were hurt. Even Tessa notes within that the book,

“But there is no reason or excuse for cruelty like this.”

And while she does finally tell Will that he’s been inexcusably mean, she’s only talking about one particular instance late in the book. There are so many more things that Will gets away with saying. They all poke fun at Henry in a way that would offend me if I were Henry. Jess is unbearably selfish and entitled; even in the few instances where the narration tries to support evidence of her “bravery,” she is only fighting for her own survival in the same way that everyone else is, and unlike everyone else, Jess won’t raise a hand to defend anyone but herself. These are some of the people who run the Institute.

There are good people too, of course–Jem is probably my favorite Shadowhunter of all time (so far), and even the unpleasant characters have redeemable qualities and moments, but it wasn’t quite enough for me to fall in love with this book again.

” ‘One must always be careful of books,’ said Tessa, ‘and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.’ “

In this case, perhaps it was me who had changed, to have such different opinions of a book I remember fondly.

In addition to the questionable manners of the characters, this book opened with a highly unpleasant situation of kidnapping/imprisonment; London was described as gray and dreary, and there had just been a death, along with the threat of another one. These factors seemed to give the whole story an awful, depressing tone. It wasn’t until the last hundred pages or so (of nearly 500) that I finally became invested and felt my mood toward the book improving. There are some great plot twists, character developments, and general messages about humanity toward the end.

” ‘And one can build one’s own family. I know you feel inhuman, and as if you are set apart, away from life and love, but…’ his voice cracked a little, the first time Tessa had heard him sound unsure.  He cleared his throat. ‘I promise you, the right man won’t care.’ “

It took a long time, but finally the book started to turn toward the better.

So many people love this book and this series. I loved this book and series (as much as I had read). I’m not sure if the problems I had with it were real issues in the book, or a reflection of my mood at the time I was reading it, or if I just took small plot points out of proportion. Don’t let my less-than-stellar experience with Clockwork Angel turn you away from this series, because while I didn’t like everything about this first book, I did find the characters interesting enough to keep reading, and I did thoroughly enjoy the clockwork aspects and the plot that developed around them. I will definitely be reading onward, and I anticipate a better experience with the second book.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. It grated on my nerves for quite a while, but it ended on a much better (more intriguing, anyway) note than it started on, so I am still planning to read further and am truly looking forward to the next book in this series. Maybe it was actually Clockwork Prince (book two) that impressed me so much with the Infernal Devices series. And I am interested enough in the plot web to want to finally see how it ends, since I never got around to reading the final book in my first try. The next Cassandra Clare book on my publication-order list will be City of Fallen Angels, the fourth book in the Mortal Instruments series (which I can hardly wait to get my hands on), and then I will be continuing on with Clockwork Prince next month. I won’t let this one discouraging experience drag me down, and I hope you won’t either; I remember greatness in the Infernal Devices, even though it just didn’t happen for me in this instance.

Further recommendations:

  1. I highly recommend reading the first three books of the Mortal Instruments series (beginning with City of Bones) before reading Clockwork Angel. It’s not strictly necessary, but Clare leaves little details in her books that tie back and forward to her other books and the reader can make the most of these references by reading Clare’s books in publication order. Even if you were to read the Mortal Instruments after the Infernal Devices, I definitely think they’re worth the time (at least the three I’ve read so far are).
  2. Before reading Clockwork Angel I picked up a Jane Austen novel which, upon retrospect, really put me in the mood and frame of mind to enjoy the setting of this one. Even Clare, while writing the Infernal Devices series, was reading a lot of literature from the time/place of Clockwork Angel‘s setting, and thus some of the classics really fit in well in conjuncture with this book. I’ll be reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte later this month, which Clare read and enjoyed while working on this novel, and Tessa routinely brings up Charles Dickens, but I would also like to suggest Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen to compliment this book.

Coming up next: I’m just coming up to the end of Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall, a mystery/thriller about a deadly plane crash full of wealthy people and shrouded with secrets and scandal. There are only two survivors–an up-and-coming painter with a past full of swimming that saved his life after the crash, and the 4 year-old son of one of the multi-millionaires on board the plane. Stay tuned to find out more.

Are there Cassandra Clare books/series you dislike more than the others? I do like the Shadowhunter novels as a whole, but did anyone else feel like Clockwork Angel just wasn’t quite up to Clare’s usual par?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Raven King

I did not expect to love the Raven Cycle when i picked it up. I thought, “I don’t know about this whole YA thing, but I want to know what people are talking about.” Now I’ve reached the end of Stiefvater’s final book in this series, The Raven King, and I want to talk about it too, because I’ve been completely hooked from the first book and the last one still hasn’t let me go.

About the book: Blue and her Raven Boys must theravenkingspeed up their search for Glendower as Cabeswater begins to decay. Something on the ley line is causing terrible damage to all things magical near Henrietta, and it’s only a matter of time before the destruction travels from dream-like Cabeswater to the teenagers who’ve tied themselves to it.

“They were so close to the situation it was difficult to tell whether or not they were the situation.”

I cannot express enough how great the dynamic between Blue and the Raven Boys continues to be. Sometimes they fight, because they’re human, but they’re so supportive and understanding of each other that they make an impenetrable team. It’s not only the group as a whole that’s fantastic, though; each character is unique and interesting on his/her own, and it’s wonderful to be able to see each of the pieces so closely before the entire puzzle is assembled. No assembled puzzle looks like this one. The group is hit with impossible truths over and over, and yet they can adjust and stand together. Obstacles make them stronger instead of tearing them apart. As it should be. Everyone should have friends like that. And if you don’t…well, then have these friends, in this book.

“They were all growing up and into each other like trees striving together for the sun.”

I did think it was a little easy for most of the parents to be simply out of the picture in this series, but the parents that are around are great. Each one is distinct in a way parents usually aren’t in YA novels–the kids get the story, the parents are necessary background; but here, Ronan’s mom is completely different from Gansey’s mom, who’s completely different from Adam’s mom, who’s completely different from Blue’s mom. Although few of these characters appear regularly, it was great to see the adults of the story as fully developed people with some influence in their kids’ lives. I especially liked the relationship between Blue and Maura, which reminded me a lot of Rory and Lorelai’s relationship in Gilmore Girls. On a lot of scales, they measure as equals, but Maura is always ready with advice and comfort when it’s really needed. Well, unless she’s gone missing. But Blue cares enough to spend a whole book searching for her–not because she needs adult protection and assistance, but because she loves Maura. It’s a great message that people who aren’t the same age as the reader are often just as significant to the story. And some people who are the same age are rather irrelevant–where did Henry Cheng come from?

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this series is that there’s enough of an undertone of romance to keep things interesting, but not enough to ever feel cheesy or unnecessary. Although i thought Stiefvater took a rather easy way out of explaining how Blue’s true-love-killing-kiss actually worked, I fully appreciated that the romance in this book was always an undercurrent instead of an over-the-top drama. There’s definitely love. But the narrator’s not going to smack you in the face with it.

“The head is too wise. The heart is all fire.”

I also especially loved that this entire series is not afraid to go a little dark. Things have to look seriously bleak for victory to feel rewarding, and–especially in this final book–Stiefvater makes it clear that she’s not going to veer away from death and destruction. It wouldn’t feel real if everyone made it to the end unscathed, so I appreciated there being moments that felt truly unsettling or even shocking. Without those moments, this would be a bland series of happy coincidences that induce eye-rolling. Instead, we have suspense.

“He had nothing to trust but the ravens and the feeling of rightness. All of his footsteps had led him to this moment, surely. He had to believe the light wouldn’t go out before he got there.”

But my favorite part about Stiefvater’s books is the quirky writing style. Tangible things break the laws of physics. Intangible things take on a life of their own. Repetitions are used to draw parallels and points of emphasis in a way that makes the reader chuckle. But my favorite line in this book was an instance when Gansey is comparing himself to the final pages of a book–a fitting comparison that addresses the reader’s emotion about the end of the series in an unexpectedly direct way:

“He was a book, and he was holding his final pages, and he wanted to get to the end to find out how it went, and he didn’t want it to be over.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. This fourth book has been my absolute favorite of this quartet. I enjoyed every book, but after the second and third books failed to replace the first as my top choice, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the final volume. I wanted it to go onward and upward (excelsior!), and to my great delight, this one did. I may be looking into reading The Scorpio Races at some point in the future when I need a little more Stiefvater in my life, but I don’t think her Shiver series sounds like my cup of tea. Really, I had such a good experience with the Raven Cycle that I would like to end on a good note rather than reaching too far for more that’s not there. What did you think of Stiefvater’s other books, if you’ve read them?

Further recommendations:

  1. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is a magical realism book that Stiefvater fans may enjoy. While I would consider the Raven Cycle more supernatural than magical realism, there are definitely similarities between the genres. All the Birds in the Sky is an adult book, but the main characters are children for much of the novel and I think it’s not so far off YA base. If you like reading about ordinary teenagers who stumble upon magic and spend their lives learning what it means for them and their world, you should give this one a try. There’s good, evil, an assassin, a two-second time machine, and an irreversible vow of silence in these pages.

What’s next: I’m currently reading Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and loving it. I read Attachments last month and enjoyed it, but it didn’t stand out to me the way this one does. Something about the prose here is much more riveting. Check out my complete review, coming soon.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in the compelling supernatural series by Maggie Stiefvater, known collectively as the Raven Cycle. You can find my complete reviews of the two previous books in this series here and here. For more Henrietta shenanigans, read on!

bluelilylilyblueAbout the book: Everyone knows the Raven King is sleeping underground. Maura believes Blue’s father is, as well. With the stakes heightened as Maura chases after her lost love and doesn’t return, Blue and the raven boys delve into caves that hide eerie secrets of their own. Ronan’s dreaming is put to the test, Adam becomes more powerful as he learns to understand and link with Cabeswater, Gansey tries to downplay his growing anxiety about the search and his feelings for Blue, Noah loses control of his supernatural abilities, and Blue will do anything it takes to rescue her mother. On top of the increased pace of the hunt for Glendower, there’s a new villain in town–the Gray Man’s influential and dangerous employer, Greenmantle, with his unpredictable wife. School resumes, but even the familiar routines of homework and classes fail to offset the unusual events surrounding the ley line and its travelers as things begin to spiral out of control.

“Henrietta was no longer someplace ordinary. He was no longer someone ordinary.”

This volume of the Raven Cycle is both a prelude to the end, and an inspection of the person each character has already become. Nothing is as easy and no one is as carefree as they were when readers met them in The Raven Boys. The new depth, however, to each personality, only enriches the narration and increases the reader’s investment in the hunt for Glendower. A darker element has been added to the gang’s magical quest, and each character has his or her own personal motivations that they believe are worth the risks of the dangerous search for the slumbering king.

“Was that what life did to them all? Chiseled them into harder, truer versions of themselves?”

How it compares: I was a little unsatisfied with the way Blue was depicted in the second book of this series, and a little tired of seeing Ronan so much. In this third book, the balance has been restored as the reader is given an appropriate amount of time with each character; I thought that was an improvement. However, one of the main points of tension in the third book is Maura’s disappearance, which felt like the weakest plot thread so far. I had absolutely no doubt that Maura would be found, which left all of the worrying about her seeming a little unnecessary. Obviously a child should be worried about a missing parent, but the reader is never quite as worried as Blue, which makes for an awkward, unbalanced sort of sympathy. Maura’s hunt for Artemus helps pull him into the story’s spotlight, but otherwise the hunt for Maura is really no different than the hunt for Glendower, and I don’t think there would have been a significant difference in the plot of this novel if Maura hadn’t gone missing.

“Maybe it was good that the world forgot every lesson, every good and bad memory, every triumph and failure, all of it dying with each generation. Perhaps this cultural amnesia spared them all. Perhaps if they remembered everything, hope would die instead.”

Also, although things are (predictably) progressing between Gansey and Blue, and I do like both characters, it was hard to see what they liked about each other. One of the benefits of a slow-burn romance is seeing tiny gestures and conversations that are heaped with meaning, rather than seeing every facet of every thought about the situation spelled out. But one of the cons would be that it’s easy to miss the meaning behind the tiny gestures and conversations. I felt a bit like Blue and Gansey were falling in love simply because it was inevitable. The reader knows it’s going to happen from the beginning, but I wish the narration spent a bit longer on the how and why. Still, I’m loving how patient and understated their relationship is, and I’ll be interested to see if my theories about what will happen between them will prove true in the final book.

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. Although there were a couple things I would’ve liked to change about this book, I was still caught up in the newest plot developments and still in love with all of the great Stiefvater writing elements that I was attracted to in the first books. Each detail of each character is described in such a way that every scene is infinitely interesting, and every chapter is exciting. The narration is consistently quirky and compelling. I think it’s impossible to be bored while reading this series, and this volume was no exception.

Further Recommendations:

  1. If you like YA that’s slightly historical and supernatural, try Meg Cabot’s Avalon High. One of my all-time favorite YA books, Avalon High is a modern reincarnation story of the famous history of King Arthur and his friends. The characters must identify their medieval counterparts and break the cycle that tends to lead to Arthur’s untimely death.

Coming Up Next: I’m just starting Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a short novel among Christie’s most-known books. As usual for Christie’s works, it features a suspenseful murder mystery. I believe it follows ten characters who are invited to an island and begin to die one by one. I can’t wait to find out why.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant