The Raven King

ravenkingby Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “Richard Gansey III had forgotten how many times he had been told he was destined for greatness.”
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Others in the series: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lilly, Lilly Blue
Content: Like the others, this is intense, heavy on the swearing and violence.

I’m always a little sad when a series I’ve loved for years comes to an end. I get so invested, waiting for each one, that it almost feels anticlimactic when it actually comes to an end. I feel let down that I no longer will get to look forward to visiting with characters I love, following their story through pages.

Sometimes, my expectations are too high and while I like the ending, I’m not wholly satisfied with it. However, this was not the case with the last in the Raven Cycle. (No, I didn’t read the others in anticipation. Maybe I should have.) Maggie Stiefvater has come up with an ending that is so perfect for the series, that captures everything, that ends it so wonderfully, that I am genuinely sad that I will not get to visit this world again. (Well, I mean, I can always re-read, but there will be nothing NEW.)

The plot is really immaterial: there’s something attacking Cabeswater, Blue and the boys are dealing with Great Things and small things. There’s a new character, Henry, who has showed up as a minor character before (or at least I got that impression, since, you know, I didn’t reread), but I fell in love with him as much as I do Blue and the boys. He melded perfectly into the Raven Boys, and played a pivotal role in the narrative; he wasn’t just window dressing. And while the psychics weren’t as much a part of this — it is a YA novel after all — I did love them and Mr. Gray when they showed up. The sum total? It really was everything I could have hoped for in the end.

Maggie’s going to be at Watermark Friday night. I’m going to be a basket case, gushing at her about this. It’s going to be wonderful as this ending.

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Blue Lily, Lily Blue

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “Persephone stood on the bare mountaintop, her ruffled ivory dress whipping around her legs, her masses of white-blond curls streaming behind her.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: October 21, 2014
Others in the series: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves
Content: There’s swearing, lots of it, including f-bombs, but nothing felt gratuitous. There’s also violence and some adult drinking. Plus, it’s a complicated story arc that may prove confusing for younger readers. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I’m always at a bit of a loss when dealing with this series. I just want to throw it at everyone (especially people who come in the store. WHY WON’T THEY BUY THIS BOOK?) and say “READ THIS! THIS IS WHAT STORYTELLING AND WRITING IS.” It really doesn’t matter that I love the characters (“What [Orla] didn’t realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another.” Count me in on that.), and I am intrigued and fascinated by the people they meet. In this book, most especially, it was Jesse Dittley, the man who took care of the cave in the hills, who talked in ALL CAPS and called Blue an ANT. He was wonderful.

The basic plot that Stiefvater weaves is that Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan are getting closer to waking their unknown king, Glendower. Blue’s mom, Maura is missing, gone off on a quest of her own. And Mr. Gray’s employer, Greenmantle (“Greenmantle had always liked the idea of being a mysterious hit man, but that career goal invariably paled in comparison with his enjoyment of going out in the town and having people admire his reputation and driving his Audi with its custom plate (GRNMNTL) and going on cheese holidays in countries that put little hats over their vowels like so: ê.”), has shown up in town, furious at Mr. Gray for defying him, determined to make him pay.

But, things don’t necessarily go right. (There is one more book, after all.) And Blue and the boys are possibly in deeper than they can handle.

What I love most (as evidenced by the frequency of quotes already), however, is the writing. It’s so drop-dead gorgeous. Stiefvater is a poet here, capturing so much — mood, character, events — with so little (even her use of swearing has Meaning.), it’s breathtaking.

If you haven’t picked these up yet, the series is almost done. Now is a good time to start. You won’t regret it.

The Silver Star

by Jeannette Walls
ages: adult (though it would be okay for a 14+ teen)
First sentence: “My sister saved my life when I was just a baby.”
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I read The Glass Castle so many years ago that I didn’t have much memory of it outside of a general liking of it. So, I went into reading The Silver Star with a fairly open mind. The only real prejudice was that I heard this was a good YA crossover. Which was enough to get me to pick it up.

And, surprisingly (to me at least), I quite liked it.

Sisters Liz and Bean (whose real name is Jean) have grown up with their artist/flake of a mom, moving constantly, and dealing with her occasional disappearing acts. Then one time, she doesn’t come back. Liz and Bean manage for a while, but when people start poking their noses around, they decide to up and go across the country to visit the uncle they’ve never met in their mom’s hometown of Byler, Virginia.

Their Uncle Tinsley takes them in, but they find that living in small town Virginia is has own set of challenges. (Especially in 1970-71, which is when this takes place.) In addition to the whole new kids in town feeling, the girls find they have to deal with a lot of Small Town History. The Hollidays used to be the mill owners, and used to be Big People in Town, but have been fading over the years. The current mill manager — Mr. Maddox — is a real piece of work (that’s being nice; ominous music started in my brain about page 100), and there’s a bit of a feud between him and Tinsley. And that only intensifies when Maddox assaults Liz.

Two things I think Walls really got: 1970s politics, and smart kids. The former was evident not only in the race relations, which admittedly she just breezed over, but in the politics of sex crimes. While the way the town and the legal system treated Liz, I was glad Walls wasn’t tempted to modernize this. (Though I wonder how “modern” the legal system really is in this area.) It helped the authenticity and feel of the novel overall.

I also appreciated that she didn’t glorify either small towns or the South; it’s all laid out there, the good and the bad, for better or for worse. And for some people — like Liz and Bean’s mom — it is worse. But that said, family doesn’t necessarily mean blood. And in tough times, good people stick together.

It’s a quick read, and well worth the time.

The Raven Boys

by Maggie Stiefvater
ages: 13+
First sentence: “Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.”
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It would be a lie to say I am a longtime fan of Maggie Stiefvater’s. I’m not. I made it through Shiver and Linger, but gave up on the wolves after that. Even after hearing her speak at KidlitCon 2010 I wasn’t all gungho about her writing. Then, I read The Scorpio Races, and my mind began to be changed. After this one, though, I have to admit: I’m a fan.

There’s just something eloquent in this book: it’s not that its prose is beautiful; I can’t thing of a single passage that stood out. But rather, Stiefvater is eloquent in her simplicity. There’s nothing outstanding about any of the characters individually, and yet as a whole they become remarkable.

The girl is Blue, the daughter of a psychic, who aspires to be “eccentric” but really is only “sensible.” She has been told since she was little that she would kill her true love with her kiss. Because of that, Blue has two rules: 1) don’t kiss anyone, and 2) don’t get involved with the Raven Boys. They’re the upper crust blue bloods that populate the pre-Ivy League boarding school in this small mountain Virginia town. Except rule number two changes after Blue gets involved with Gansey’s — one of those blue bloods with an affinity for a 1973 Camaro — quest to find a mysterious Welsh king he believes to be buried nearby. Gansey doesn’t come alone, but rather in a pack: there is Ronan, a hot-blooded Irish boy who has gone off the deep end since his father’s mysterious murder; Noah, who lurks around the outskirts of everything, but still is somehow part of it all; and Adam — the one Blue falls for — who has his pride and not much else. Their quest starts out innocently enough, but becomes increasingly darker as the book goes on. It’s this slow descent into the strange, supernatural, and eerie that kept me reading, not wanting to put it down.

It was pointed out in the YAckers that it’s a good gender-neutral book: the love bits aren’t all smushy, and the male characters are pretty amazing. As is everyone else.

I’m blathering. Just go read it (if you already haven’t).

The Cross Gardener

by Jason F. Wright
ages: adult
First sentence: “I was born on the side of a two-lane Virginia highway at 1:21 a.m. on February 1, 1983.”
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Perhaps it’s best if I’m up front with this one: I didn’t like it. I thought it was sappy, manipulative, blatant and poorly written. I felt like a rat being run through the maze, being prodded which way to turn. And the ending? Unpredictable and kind of, well, lame.

Basic plot: John Bevan, who has suffered lots of loss in his life (first his mom died in a car accident which resulted in his birth; then his grandfather, whom he never met; then his father), loses (why is it always loss and loses for death? We don’t misplace anyone when they die, do we?) his True Love (ugh) and unborn child in a freak car accident. He suffers grief and pain and basically ceases to function until he meets The Cross Gardener, who helps him find The Way Back.

Before I get too snarky, I should admit something: aside from a couple of early-term miscarriages (I didn’t even make it to a D and C) and the deaths of my grandparents at generally advanced ages (my grandmother died when she was 64, but I was only 9, so it didn’t really impact me), I have not had much experience with death. No infant deaths, no spouse deaths, no parent deaths, no sibling deaths. So, I admit, readily, that I had no frame of reference in which to connect with this book. Perhaps if I had experienced some sort of tragic event, some grand loss in my life, I would be better equipped to actually connect with this book.

That said, if it were a better written book, I wouldn’t have had to have shared experience in order to connect with the characters and their experience with grief.

Annie, Between the States

Keeping up the pace, even with a newborn, who has decided to have a constant bellyache (sometimes breastfeeding is so frustrating!)…

This Civil War youth fiction novel by L.M. Elliot had lots going for it, but somehow wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. I enjoyed the heroine — Annie Sinclair, a half-Irish Virginian fiercely loyal to Virginia and therefore the Confederacy, yet increasingly disturbed by both perceptions of Southerners, the attitutes of those around her towards blacks, and her growing love for a Union soldier. Makes for good melodrama. Except, I think, there was just too much. The novel spans almost the entire Civil War, and while she keeps it centered in Virginia, I often found myself skipping the war passages. Maybe it would have been better had the time been collapsed. That said, she did do an excellent job portraying the horrors of war, and how it touched every family in many varied ways — a brother looses an arm, her mother dies of diptheria, another brother becomes fiercely pro-Confederate and lusts after battle. She even spends time in a Federal prison. (Again, maybe it all was a bit too much…) I suppose, though, writing a novel set in the Civil War can’t be an easy thing to do, especially with a sympathetic Southern character. And, given that, Elliot’s book is a good read.