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Review – The Raven Boys

#1 in the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

⭐️⭐️

Disclaimer: Back when I tried to read Shiver, I found it boring and the main character repellant in every way. The only reason I decided to give the Raven Cycle a try at last is because someone told me they also hated Shiver and that reading The Raven Boys was a polar opposite experience. It wasn’t that magical for me, but two stars instead of throwing the book against a wall is a marked improvement.

Extra Disclaimer: I vented more than I expected to in this review. I think anyone who enjoyed this book is entitled to, and I’d be more than happy to hear them rave about it. As long as no one tells me I’m “wrong,” because no one is wrong about a book unless they make a weird statement like, “Twilight is a VCR manual that can raise the dead.” …even that would be an opinion I’d like to see elaborated upon.

That said, I’ll start with what I liked. Ronan is one of those characters with a load of negative traits, disliked even by the other characters, whom I just adored. Sometimes I just have to love the unrepentant asshole who is also a troubled bad boy. I’m only human. I liked the otherworldliness that came in when they finally followed the corpse road, and I liked the family of psychics. Calla reminded me of Amethyst from Steven Universe, for some reason. That’s a good thing. While I wasn’t a fan of the relationships among the core cast, I actually like the girl joining a group of guys on a quest thing. I’d like to see it without said girl being a romantic interest for a guy in the group, but that was not too bad here. The antagonist is intriguing and legitimately threatening when he needs to be. I loved the way he was set up so early and occasionally bolstered. This is one of the few times that I thought the multiple perspectives were pulled off pretty well.

My biggest problem with The Raven Boys is something I was afraid of and half-determined not to do: I hated the only female main character. I tried to like her. I don’t want to be one of those people who reads a book with a predominantly male cast and hates the token girl just because she’s female and there. I liked all of the other female characters, even Persephone, who is yet another cheap, phoned-in expy of Joss Whedon’s Drusilla character type. I even liked Blue’s name until I realised that rather than invoking Aerith and Bob, almost every name could easily be found on a fancy dog collar. Possibly Helen was one of the characters I wasn’t supposed to like and wouldn’t have if I were an obedient reader, but I liked her too. (and no, her being a helicopter pilot was not my sole reason)

So what’s wrong with Blue? She’s kind of a bitch, but it isn’t that simple. It would have been obnoxious enough if she’d just been another super-speshul fatherless wish fulfilment girl who makes her own clothes and even rebels in a “unique” way, despite having a witch/hippie mother. That would have simply been eye-rolling. But pretty much from the word Go, Blue lays out the one thing that made me want to slap her and later Adam: the nasty prejudice against people with money.

This drove me insane. She damns all rich people and any traits she can pin on them as Bad. Never mind that none of the rich people she meets do anything to validate her views or to deserve her nastiness. Wear anything she can identify as expensive? Guess what, she’ll call you a privileged asshole. Even if she assumed incorrectly. She treated Adam liked this just for going to the rich boy school. Of course, when she realises that he’s One of Her People, she can’t praise him enough–especially so she can compare him favourably to those Awful Rich Guys. (and boy do those two ever act like this is an issue of race)

The worst of it for me was that it usually boiled down to anti-intellectualism. I’m defo not rich, but I have endeavoured to be well-educated, so I will admit that this part felt personal. Gansey has a large vocabulary. The guy goes to a pre-Ivy League high school, and his central motivation in the book is seeking the tomb of a Welsh King. NO FUCKING DUH HE USES BIG WORDS. It has nothing to do with either of them. But both Blue and Adam correct him if he uses a word they don’t know and make it clear that they think he’s wrong for doing so. There wasn’t a single time that either of them accused Gansey of being condescending where he was actually guilty. He could not win. If he said something and defined it, he was called or thought of as condescending. If he said something and didn’t define it, Blue decided he was making her feel stupid on purpose and called or thought of him as condescending. The guy is seeking something supernatural and she acts like his owning an EMF reader is just more rich asshole posturing. The hell?

Adam has an inferiority complex that has basically zero to do with Gansey himself. But Adam blames Gansey for it, and takes it out on him pretty much constantly. I couldn’t stand Adam’s complaining, hateful ass either. He was supposed to have this deep brotherly relationship and fierce loyalty to Gansey, but all Adam ever did was bitch about him. There came a point where I was only reading to see if Gansey would ever stand up for himself (spoiler, he doesn’t) and the scraps of times that Ronan would come in and be the only character I gave a shit about anymore. Noah is sketched so thinly that his entire character arc thing was a bit insulting. It was a good read, but not a moment of it felt like it had been earned, so it either rang false or looked cheap.

Sometimes, I wondered if Stiefvater is just not any great shakes as a writer. The style and voice are dull pretending to be profound. Chekhov should shoot this book for the details that take up significant time only to come to nothing–I don’t care if they’re going to be important later in the series. They belong in the book in the series wherein they become relevant. Fight me. There are also a lot of dumb mistakes that I would think a decent editor would’ve caught. I could live with Llywelyn’s name being spelled wrong, since the king they were looking for was Owain Glendŵr. But saying that Ronan “flaunts” school rules rather than “flouts?” Explicitly stating that a phobia is only an irrational fear? What about acrophobia? Two seconds of looking at a dictionary will tell you that a phobia is an “extreme OR irrational fear.” Then there’s the cringe-inducing misinformation about epipens. While I can believe Blue being stupid enough to think that epinephrine is used to “restart the heart” rather than to reverse the effects of anaphylaxis, I refuse to believe that a rich boy doesn’t carry these on his person as well as keeping a few in his room and car. I know they expire incredibly fast compared to other drugs (I think even etanercept lasts 24 months as long as you keep it refrigerated), but he has a lot of money and is clearly very scared of succumbing to his allergy. No way he has just one epipen in the glove compartment. For heaven’s sake, don’t they come in packs of two?

If there’s anything I find next to impossible to forgive in a book, it’s when the author tells me how to feel. It’s particularly egregious here, where the telling is more of a demand that says if I feel differently, I must be wrong. I think that might turn out to be a problem I will forever have with Maggie Stiefvater. I’m going to read the next book in this series, because someone pointed out that it’s “Ronan’s book” and he’s the only one I still like. But any further than that will be 100% dependent on how much I like that one. I’ve got a feeling the ice is gonna be thin.

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Review – Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, Paranormal novella by Seanan McGuire

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“…dead is the change you can’t take back, dead is the mistake that can’t be unmade.”

Another stunning Seanan McGuire novella. There are two supernatural groups at play: ghosts and witches. Ghosts need to take time away from humans. This means that the human is made younger, and the ghost is older. It’s the only way they can age and reach the time they were meant to die. Their dying day. Jenna Pace is a ghost, killed when she ran into a ravine while grieving for her older sister Patty, who committed suicide. Witches draw their power from a singular source, which can vary. Witches can tell the dead from the living and they can control whether or not a ghost gives or takes time from them.

Jenna operates under self-imposed conditions. She needs to feel that she’s earned the time she takes. She does so by working at a suicide hotline and counting only the minutes from calls that she felt made a difference. Proof that, as the book later says, ghosts are still human.

Most of the beginning is establishing the world and its rules, which is good. I didn’t understand “taking time away” at first. The plot kicks in when Jenna is warned that all of the other ghosts in Manhattan have disappeared. She and a sort-of witch friend named Brenda work together to find out why they’re gone.

The cast is principally female, which felt natural and not forced. The writing is melancholy, with a bit of a poetic bent that makes for a dreamy reading experience, as well as nicely establishing Jenna’s otherness, both as a ghost and someone who is old while never having quite aged like a loving person. I was lucky enough to score a glass-door study area at the library, which combined with my cold to make for an atmosphere of altered consciousness.

“As always, it’s comfortable to put my death-clothes back on, like I’m setting the world a little closer to right. The shape of the skin under the shroud has changed as I’ve stolen my way into adulthood, one minute at a time, from the people around me, but this is one thing that will always fit, no matter how old I get. I was buried in it. It knows me.

This is a ghost of a garment, worn thin by my memory, and as gone as the rest of me. The worms have had my flesh by now. The creeping roots of trees have had the cotton stitching at my hips and the colour of my hair. It’s been forty years since I went to the earth, and even my bones will be crumbling by now, going down into the Hollow, like the bones of all the folk who came before me. There’s something comforting in that.”

Unfortunately, it isn’t perfect. The ending is rushed in the worst ways. That could just be a mild irritation, but so much of it falls short of satisfaction. Lots of things go unexplained, which is already bad in a shorter work, but looks worse in comparison to all of the things that interweave and call back so well. The antagonist gets the worst of this. Coming in late is fine, but they had almost no motivation, no explanations, and lacked impact.

Still, this author is generally a win with me, and with good reason. She has awesome ideas and the execution is often just as much fun as the core concept, which is sort of the holy grail of cool moment generation. I think this novella is a perfect gateway for people interested in checking out the paranormal genre without romantic elements.

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Friday Book Review – The Gathering Storm

tgs

 

I had two major impressions of this book. My favourite was, “WHOA RUSSIA. We have had a Russia crush since high school.” The cultural parts of the setting are meticulously researched, and it definitely shows. Like the best of historical fiction, the details are accurate, and presented as though everything is immediate and familiar. The historical and cultural stuff is put into a natural context, rather than seen through the veil of the modern day or another culture. Katerina is a duchess in the Russian court in a time when the court flourishes. Everyone she knows is royal, and everyone knows who is related to whom. I recognised all the named places. It was never like Die Hard 5, where Russia was actually Hungary the whole time. It’s just a good solid… part of the setting.

My other impression was not impressed with basically the entire rest of the book.

The rest of the setting was given only the vaguest, lightest possible amount of attention. I honestly finished the book unsure of what supernatural elements were definitely a Real Thing and which were debunked as far as this world is concerned. In my original review, I wrote, “There are vampires, but also no one believes in them, except that someone famously drove them away, but people are acting like vampires are only a myth, so what is even the hell.” The writing offers very weak, often incomplete information, and often backpedals and contradicts that very information.

Without the historical fiction as a background, this would have just been an embarrassingly weak entry into the paranormal genre. It borrows from notable books without really bringing new things to the table, either with plot or characters, and the supernatural elements are treated like unwelcome guests to a really loud party.

Katerina herself is not a remarkable character. She isn’t immediately annoying, but she isn’t all that sympathetic or interesting either.. Maybe there isn’t any intentional borrowing, but it definitely reminded me of other books. None of them were ones I would have rather read, but that is not a point in this book’s favour.

Anyway, Katerina is a necromancer, which mostly serves to make her scared of her power and being found out. She doesn’t do anything interesting with it, except by accident once or twice, and it’s easy to get annoyed with her concern and outright refusal to confide in anyone. She behaves a lot like the necromancer in Kelley Armstrong’s The Summoning. This is most apparent whenever she is threatened. She’s very easily cowed. The people who menace who dont’ even have to put any effort into it. She does try to stand up for herself sometimes, generally when it won’t matter.

Her silence, often held on the thinnest of pretexts, is the cause of a lot of tragedy in the book, and if you come to care for the world or any of the other characters, it’s hard to forgive her for that. She is almost directly responsible for the death of one of the most likeable characters. For a really stupid reason. To make it worse, even when she has the sense to blame herself, someone actually tells her it isn’t her fault EVEN THOUGH IT EFFING IS. I hate when characters do that. MAN UP AND TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY YOU ARE A FLIPPING DUCHESS.

Once I realised this kind of thing kept happening, it was impossible to enjoy the book.

I mean it. There are multiple times when she could have and should have brought someone into her confidence or just explained a situation in order to get out of trouble. There is no way to emphasize this enough. A significant percentage of the conflict is predicated on her not sharing information for no damn reason.

What makes it worse is that every single time that she actually stopped being a moron and asked for help, the conflict was resolved or at least ameliorated. Her cousin is mysteriously ill and no one will do enough to help? She goes to Dr Kruglevski and he saves the day. This is a very direct, positive result to a request for help, and she doesn’t learn from it. People died who did not have to, because Katerina deludes herself into thinking she can’t/shouldn’t tell anyone what’s been going on. Not through some bold hubris that makes her believe she can take care of things on her own. That would be an interesting character flaw. No, she’s just a wet rag who finds it easier to stand dumb than speak the hell up.

The other thing that started to grate on my nerves is that it sometimes feels like a Twilight expy. Not in a big way, but the further it went on, the more little similarities cropped up. And these little similarities were small but rather strong.

  • Katerina is crippled from action by fear of others’ opinions
  • She refrains from protecting herself from all sorts of harm and justifies it as protecting others.
  • Vampires
  • Her love interest is a fairy or something
  • He has a female relative who sees the future
  • Werewolf? (i think)
  • Vampire war
  • Poorly developed romance that results in encompassing passion

Maybe it’s not the Twilight thing that’s annoying, but that these are all overused tropes that were in that book too. Maybe this book is just not my thing. I liked the plot, I liked the part of the setting that dared to be complete, and I like this author.

This book would have been three stars, but now it’s 2.5 because I’m tired enough to not have understood all of the supernatural elements.

I still think that Katerina could use some better communication skills. I’m really tired of inaction being a character flaw. All it does is open the way to unlimited navel gazing and the only conflict coming from other characters or a timer running out. Give me the screw-ups who rush into danger back, please.

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Friday Book Review – Better Part of Darkness

betterpartcover

An unlikeable main character is the death of many a book, and it’s one of the biggest causes of death for this one. Charlie Iforgotherlastname is indecisive, recklessly and pointlessly violent, mean, and a horrible parent. She curses a lot, and it makes her sound like an idiot. There are people who curse a lot and still manage to sound like adults, and then there are losers like Charlie who just sound like a seven-year-old trying to sound “adult.” The emphasis is either lost or wearisome or both.She lets her child make life decisions for her and threatens, in graphic and hostile detail, to kill her partner for absolutely no reason at effing all.

She flails back and forth, backpedalling in ways that could have easily been edited out.  This book is so racked with indecision that it’s practically a theme. Charlie can’t even issue a declarative statement without clarifying it, generally with a contradicting statement. Here’s where she makes a nasty death threat without real provocation:

“She’s not dead.”
Immediately, I felt for her pulse. “I swear to God, Hank, I’ll put a bullet in your belly and send you back to Elysia if you’re messing with me.”
“Jeez, Charlie, give me some credit, will you? I wouldn’t kid you about this.”
Emma loved Amanda like any devoted little sister would. She also adored Hank. And I knew that if this affected her, then Hank wouldn’t mess with me on something so personal.

My brain whirs. Why did she blow up so violently when she had zero reason to think he was kidding? It’s like, “I WILL &#$@-ING KILL YOU IF YOU ARE KIDDING” / “That’s stupid, I wouldn’t do that, and you know it.” / “OH YEAH I HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN YOU WOULD NEVER DO THAT YOU ARE LIKE A BROTHER TO ME.”

It’s just an incredibly impassioned outburst for something she just let go without pause. Also, the grammar BURNS. I literally got a headache from reading this. The writing is so juvenile that it looks like a sixteen-year-old wrote it. Which, if it had been, would also explain the overwrought emotions and horniness overriding sense.

Speaking of the overwrought emotions… Charlie is exhaustingly DRAMATIC. About everything. She’s never mildly irritated, she is EXASPERATED, UGGGHHHH. Never sceptical, always arms-flailingly DISMISSIVE. And any time she can think of an excuse to be hostile (which is all the dang time), she will threaten to murder you and your entire family. This is not “kick-ass” it’s stupid.

You know what else is not kick-ass? Being unable to make a decision on your freaking own. Charlie doesn’t even make bad decisions. The one time she made a decision, she let her daughter talk her out of it… and it wasn’t even a real discussion. It basically went like this:

Charlie: Do you think I should transfer to a desk job?
Emma: Le gasp! If you did that, you wouldn’t be the mother I know and love! And also no one else is capable of protecting the city except you! Besides, you promised to solve my friend’s case that showed up on like page two.
Charlie: Oh yeah. Maybe I’ll transfer after the case is solved.
Emma: LOL ur so funny as if I would even let you.

Bullied out of her decision by an eleven-year-old for whom she is responsible. And of course, this is right after she allowed herself to be roped into a passionate snog with her ex who was RESPONSIBLE FOR HER DEATH. I’m not particularly bad-ass in my own opinion, but if my husband had practised black magic, cheated on me with a sorceress, and then that sorceress tried to wipe out her competition by murdering me, AND I was lucky enough to be returned to life and divorce him? I would get a restraining order that kept him two STATES away from my child and me, and if he ever showed up in my house I’d shoot his ass in self defence.

What does Charlie do? She lets him have completely unsupervised visits with their daughter. I think the guy has partial custody. She comes home to find this man STANDING IN HER KITCHEN. And her reaction is to let him talk about how they should totes get back together, baby, and then makes out with him almost to the degree of sex.

If I had had a physical copy of this book, I think I would have thrown it in a toilet.

To wind down a little… The exposition is terrible. The author just vomits out world-building and character backstory whenever she feels like it without a decent foundation for either the details or when they are exposited. It didn’t help that the world was fairly generic urban fantasy, After the Masquerade Has Been Unmasqued style.

Also, re: HER DEATH. Pro tip: Start the story at the most interesting part of the character’s life. I would have so much rather read the book that led up to her death than to start with the recovery of a woman who can’t even make bad decisions and yet gleefully insults therapy. There isn’t even the excuse that the story begins in medias res, since it starts with a cop and her partner coming to check out a body. That is where the mystery tends to start, if they don’t cover the victim’s story a little more in depth first. This is about as in medias res as “Il était une fois…”

Okay, I’m starting to quote French fairy tale tradition. This book. ARGH. I just can’t. I have lost the will to can.

4

another false start

I kind of like false starts. They make it easier to see what it is I want to do, even if I didn’t manage it on the first go. In this case, I need a better handle on the character, and quicker establishment. She comes off as whiny because she doesn’t take action right away.

There was nothing quite like a rejuvenating cruise. On the flip side, there was nothing less like it than returning from said cruise to find that one’s apartment building had been paved over.

Iona stumbled back a step. Luckily, she had closed the cab door. Otherwise, she might have fallen right back into the backseat. Her bag thumped against the window.

It had been old and crumbling, like moldy cake. Her apartment had been on the third of five stories. Now all she saw was a flat lot of concrete, and an alien vista that redefined the horizon so that she didn’t recognised the neighborhood for a full ten seconds.

“Are you sure this is the right address, lady?”

The driver’s voice was not without sympathy. But she noticed that the meter was still running. With something like the reverse of a shudder, she regained her composure. “Of course it is,” she said. “I’m meeting someone here.”

She reached into her bag and took out a wad of cash. She’d planned on handing over a nice tip if the driver had offered to help with her suitcase. She’d also planned on a bubble bath and a long nap, but without a tub, bed, or the rooms she had once retained to keep them in, those weren’t going to happen either.

As soon as the cab had disappeared from sight at reckless speed, Iona sat down hard on her suitcase. It wobbled.

“I was only gone for two weeks,” she said aloud. She stomped both feet on the ground, nearly sending herself toppling off the suitcase. “Where’s my stuff?!”

There was no one about to hear her. That had been one of the place’s charms. No one lived in this ramshackle part of town. She looked around at the other, still standing buildings. They were all abandoned or housing offices. Warehouses. No one lived here. Not even her.

She ran both hands through her hair, framing her face in her freckled arms. That rat, the landlord. He’d been trying to buy people out of the place for a year. And then she had been stupid enough to go on vacation.

“Ooh, I’ll kill him…!”

She plucked a single blonde hair and twirled it in between her fingers. It curled and twisted, slowly beginning to singe. Smoke rose and gathered, rising from the strand of hair and collecting far beyond what such small amount of material should have produced.

The smoke formed a circle and spread out in front of her. Iona dropped her hand to her knee and drummed her fingers there.

At last, most of the smoke cleared, leaving only a thin, ringed border. A round, pretty face appeared in it, flushed with recent activity. “Geez, Iona, what do you want?”

Even this truncated sight of her sister set Iona’s lip trembling. “My apartment is gone!”

0

Free-Writing Voice practise

My room was the smallest one in the whole house. Which is saying something, since the house itself was frickin’ tiny. Technically, there was less measureable space in the bathroom, but that place was like a T.A.R.D.I.S., so it didn’t count. With all the lotion bottles and makeup I had lost in there, it had to be at least the size of the living room.

Nothing ever got lost in my room. Just like nothing can get lost in a matchbox. This was why I should have kept my backpack in my room. There was a desk squeezed in there, gathering laundry and dust. I could have done my homework there. Theoretically. But noooo, I’d just had to retreat to a place where I wouldn’t get my elbows in my own eyes.

And yet, I had searched the rest of the house top to bottom. Those places I was allowed in. Not even desperation would send me into my brother’s gross hole of a room.

That left me with my gross hole of a room. I leaned against the wall and held a hand over my eyes, as if that would improve my eyesight. It would have to give me x-ray vision to help.

“Oh backpack, where are you?” It was Sunday afternoon. I had mere hours to find the dang thing before another dreadful Monday.

My cowering carpet usually peeked in small, coin-sized holes. I unearthed it in great sweeps of my noodly arms as I tore through my miniature jungle. Old workbooks that I should have thrown out but didn’t because of doodles and secret journal entries in the margins, bent photographs, and even half-finished Lego models flew through the air.

“Why do I have so much crap?” I wailed, then stopped mid-distress to set aside a skirt that I had been looking for over the past month. Then I turned back to survey the mess I lived in.

It was much worse than before. I couldn’t even see my bed, let alone my backpack. I gripped my hair in my fists and groaned. “Where is it?” When this agonised cry produced nothing, I tried swaying back and forth, fingers still tangled in my hair. Not quite meditation. Sure, I was a good Jewish girl, but when it came to more New Age-y stuff, I was about as spiritual as a badger.

“Dafna! Get down here and set the table!”

If it had been Mom shouting, I would have hopped the heck to. But it was just dumb Ziva. We were only one year apart. She could tell me what to do when she learned hypnotism and bought a fob watch.

However, while she couldn’t even order around the dog, Ziva did have a voice that could shatter car windows. I gave up my fruitless search and thundered down the stairs.

2

i got naive

Nights like that one, the music sang through me. I felt like I had left early, with only the guitar and my voice left to bear the burden of the stage. My audience wasn’t there for rock and roll. I could have played it. But they didn’t want it. What they wanted was the raw singer/songwriter, red hair shining almost pink under the hot lights.

When it was over, I left. Fans made me nervous, people with Kazie tattooed on their eyes. My stage name is as close to “crazy” as I’ll ever let any of me get. Unfortunately, now it’s the only name I have.

It had been raining most of the night. I remember the miserable broken lines of water, pouring straight down like water through a sieve. I pulled my hood up, threaded my scarf between the hood and my neck.

Someone else pulled it tight around me.

I fought. No one could have fought like I did. I clawed until my fingers broke, screamed myself hoarse. My nose broke against the sidewalk. Water flooded my nostrils. I was drowned in a puddle an inch deep.

Then I woke up a ghost, with no memories but these.

 

Just an idea I had. Probably won’t be this graphic if I come back to this later. Unless graphic works. I dunno.