Tag Archives: supernatural

Review: Firestarter

(My last belated review from November reading! I’m so close to being caught up again!)

I picked up Stephen King’s Firestarter in preparation for reading King’s newest release, The Institute. I heard somewhere along the line that the two novels share a key element or two, and I love a good comparison. I’m also just very interested in the fact that King can find such success in using “recycled” content. But this post will be a single, focused review since I’ve only just started The Institute– any comparisons between the two will appear there.

firestarterIn the novel, a man and his daughter are on the run from a top secret government branch known as “the Shop.” Several years previously, Andy met his wife in a paid study where they were both given experimental drugs. Neither can quite be sure whether they hallucinated the events that followed, or actually tapped into a range of psychic abilities as part of the test- some residual power to manipulate the minds of others and close doors without touching them suggests the latter. Even so, they’re both surprised when their daughter Charlie, is born with the ability to start fires with her mind, and only grows stronger with time. The Shop wants to study her badly enough that they’d kill to get their hands on her; they’re not above kidnapping either. But no one understands the pyrokinetic power they’re up against- not even Charlie.

“You sit here and make your plans for controlling a force beyond your comprehension. A force that belongs only to the gods themselves…and to this one little girl.”

Three things to be aware of right off the bat:

  1. This book was published in 1980, and feels very much like a product of its time. Between the mad scientist, the psychedelic drugs, the ease of hitchhiking, the slow spread of information (predating the smart phone era), and the secret government agents destined to stay ahead of the Russians, it’s definitely a throwback.
  2. This book was published during Stephen King’s addiction years. In his own On Writing (and probably elsewhere), he admits that he doesn’t have clear memories of his writing projects from this time, including the entire novel of Cujo, if I remember correctly. I haven’t read Cujo yet, but I have read quite a handful of King’s works, and this is the first one that felt genuinely sloppy to me. It is coherent, but gave me the strong impression that King was riding on his fame and churning out ideas without polishing them.
  3. This book is very obviously one of the main sources of inspiration for the Stranger Things TV show. Charlie is clearly an earlier rendition of Eleven (though with a different power), and the Shop paves the way for the Hawkins Lab. The set-up for the drug experiment is very similar to the set-up of the experiment in Suspicious Minds, the first official Stranger Things novel, which stands as a prequel to the TV series. Many small details match up as well, character traits and motivations, etc. I feel confident in saying that Stranger Things would not exist- or at least, not as it does today- without this novel.

In a nutshell, if you’re interested in science fiction stories from the 80’s, in King’s writing in general, or in Stranger Things, you’re more likely to find this a worthwhile read. Because I was very interested in 2 of those categories and indifferent about the 3rd (80’s sci-fi), I did enjoy the underlying concept and quite a few of the details. That said, I did have some larger issues that are more likely to bother readers who aren’t interested in this book for one of the above reasons.

“Of course, an eighth-grade science book teaches that anything will burn if it gets hot enough. But it is one thing to read such information and quite another to see cinderblocks blazing with blue and yellow flame.”

The first issue I had was with characterization; most of the characters in Firestarter feel like archetypes rather than nuanced people. The assassin was probably the most interesting, though even he turned out to be predictably evil rather than morally gray. Andy, the father, is a typical wrong-place-wrong-time hero who just wants to do the right thing so badly that he’s boring, and Charlie just feels entirely inauthentic as a 9 year old girl: her dialogue is corny and cringe-worthy, her reactions strangely detached, and she’s given no personality- no favorite toys or pastimes, no best friends she misses, no self-expression in her clothes or behavior. It’s like when she’s not in the current scene, she doesn’t exist, and even when she is in scene she’s so transparent that it’s hard to invest in her plight. It’s the situation they’re in rather than the characters themselves that drives the story forward.

And on the topic of momentum, the second main issue I found with this book is that the pacing lags right in the middle. The story starts with Andy and Charlie on the run, which is interesting enough, but there’s a sort of stalemate in the middle of the story between the end of the chase and the big climax. In this pause, King spends hundreds of pages (out of the total 500) just moving his characters into place for the final act. It’s a slow, largely plotless section full of helplessness and prophetic dreams and no one quite sure where they’re going anymore or how they’re going to get there. The concept has lost its novelty by this point, the characters have proven themselves uninteresting, and literally nothing is happening. Even though I knew King was going to end this one with a bang, it was such a struggle getting through that middle section.

Which isn’t to say the book’s all bad. Even though I would not have liked this story if I wasn’t interested in reading for reasons that extended beyond the plot, there are certainly some fun elements. Andy’s power, for one: he can “push” people into believing things- convincing a cab driver that the one-dollar bill in his hand is actually a hundred, for example. The drug experiment he participates in and the Shop itself is fascinating, if you’re into government conspiracies. The increasingly large fires Charlie can set without breaking a sweat add an extra layer of intrigue. And there’s an interesting afterward in which King notes that while he’s not trying to persuade anyone that psychic powers are real, there was actually a time when the government spent time and money trying to discover whether such powers might be harnessed for use.

“Do not fear, you are wrapped snuggly in the arms of Modern Science.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. It was so fun to see what was clearly a source of inspiration for other creators, and to weigh this early story against some of its notable recent counterparts (Stranger Things and Suspicious Minds). Though the story itself did not quite satisfy me, I did appreciate its premise, and I’m so intrigued to see where King goes with the psychic powers in The Institute. I hope the latter will be a more polished and entertaining work in its own right, but Firestarter has not discouraged me or lowered my expectations. I’ll definitely be reading more from King, and I’m now very much in the mood to rewatch Stranger Things!


The Literary Elephant

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.”)


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?


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?


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?


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.


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.


The Literary Elephant

Review: The Dream Thieves

Sequels make me wary. When the first book is good enough to convince readers to pick up a second volume, expectations run high and hopes are easily dashed. Not so with Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves, the second book in her popular Raven Cycle. If you missed my review of book one, The Raven Boys, you can find that here.

thedreamthievesAbout the book: The ley line is awake, but there’s a new problem with Cabeswater. Namely, it’s not where Blue and her Aglionby friends left it. Ronan still sees it in his dreams, however, and must use his ability of pulling tangible objects from his dreams to help put Cabeswater back to rights. There’s a new man in town, however, who’s also interested in Ronan’s dream capabilities and looks even more dangerous than Whelk. Adam, after sacrificing his senses for Cabeswater’s use, is also battling to restore the magical forest of Cabeswater because the only way to hold onto his sanity with Cabeswater in his head is to balance the surges and outages that the awakened ley line has caused all over Henrietta. Noah comes and goes, helping where he can. Gansey, of course, is busy trying to hold everyone else together, even when they’re hurting him. It seems that the only one who can help him keep everything together is Blue, and maybe she’s starting to feel the same about him…

“In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness. Her raven boys.”

The first book in the Raven Cycle focused heavily on Blue. In this sequel, however, Blue is given very little space in the narration. She’s often present, but her role is lesser in this novel and so the 3rd person narration highlights the characters that are most important to restoring Cabeswater–Ronan and Adam. The reader also sees Gansey with relative frequency, as he tries to lead the group even while its edges fray and his friends lash out at him, but primarily this book is an expansion rather than a continuation. As the story carries onward, we’re also seeing farther back into the characters’ pasts. Blue and Gansey step away from the center of the stage, but when they do appear, the tension between them evolves into  something unprecedented in The Raven Boys. The Raven Cycle is not a romance series, but it does contain some romance, and the complications of love start to appear in this volume.

“Kissing’s a lot like laughing. If the joke’s funny, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you last heard one.”

Worst aspect: without access to Blue’s thoughts, her minor fights over the wording of the raven boys’ statements come off more antagonistically. She makes good points, but the fact that she never seems to agree with anything the others say makes it seem like she’s always picking a fight. She handles awkward situations with each of them well, but being able to see the boys’ perspectives more prominently makes Blue seem more disagreeable and confrontational. I’m glad she’s there–this boy-filled quest for Glendower needed a female perspective–but I didn’t like her attitude as much in this volume. Also, the fact that she’s the only girl makes me wonder where the smart, rich girls of Henrietta are. If Aglionby is an all-boys private school for the rich and intelligent, where are the girls? Is there another special school, a counterpart to Aglionby? Do private school girls have to find another school in another town? I don’t need more than a one-sentence explanation, but I want to know.

Best aspect: Mr. Gray, the potential antagonist of the novel, is a highly interesting character. I mean, all of Stiefvater’s characters are interesting, but Mr. Gray is the sort of character that readers can spend a whole book wondering which side he’s on. He’s got a creepy past, an uncertain future, and even in the present he’s mysterious. The part that makes him best for this sequel, though, is the fact that he’s nothing like Barrington Whelk. Often sequels recycle bad guys, or create new ones from the same evil mold. Mr. Gray is entirely new and different, deadly with a charming exterior, and nearly every inclusion of him in The Dream Thieves’ narration meant another surprise.

“What a strange thing this was that they all knew that Mr. Gray was certainly not Mr. Gray, and yet they all went along with it. This playacting should have rankled Blue’s sensible side, but instead, it struck her as a reasonable solution. He didn’t want to say who he was, and they needed to call him something.”

The most notable difference between books one and two of the Raven Cycle, however, is the dramatic foray into supernatural territory. There were some otherworldly elements in The Raven Boys, but The Dream Thieves takes the supernatural side of the quest for the centuries-old slumbering king Glendower to a whole other level. Taking things from dreams is only the beginning of the strangeness in this book. If you’re not willing to believe the unbelievable, this may not be the book for you. If you like books that challenge your idea of reality, this is exactly the book for you.

” ‘There isn’t anything else, man.’ ‘There’s reality,’ [Ronan said.] Kavinsky laughed the word. ‘Reality! Reality’s what other people dream for you.’ “

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. A rare rating for a sequel, but this one deserved it. I love that each book in this series so far left me desperately wondering what will happen next. A great strategy, Stiefvater, to keep me invested in reading your books. I will definitely be checking out the next volume in the Raven Cycle, probably next month, and it’s one of the books I’m most looking forward to on next month’s list. Usually I’m a little skeptical of supernatural stories, but I’m in this one for the long haul.

Further recommendations:

  1. Red Rising by Pierce Brown also has an incredible sequel to accompany its phenomenal first book. Although this series is not supernatural, it does take place on futuristic Mars, which is otherworldly in its own way. If you’re looking for a new series that rivals the Raven Cycle with its unique characters and superb writing, check out Red Rising. You can find my complete review of this book here.

What’s next: I’m currently reading Graham Moore’s new historical fiction novel, The Last Days of Night. It’s set in New York City at the end of the 1800’s, and focuses on a young lawyer who’s defending an inventor rival of Thomas Edison’s.


The Literary Elephant

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!


The Literary Elephant

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