Review: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Raven Cycle #3)” by Maggie Stiefvater


17378508Title: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Raven Cycle #3)”

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA, magical realism, contemporary, AWESOME

Source: ARC from publisher

Publication Date: October 21, 2014 (Scholastic – North America)

Summary: There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

☆: 5/5 stars – SO MANY FEELS YOU GUYS.

Review: Guys, I just…I can’t even with this series anymore. But in a good way. So much heartbreak, but it feels so good. This book (which I guess, is kind of a middle book? out of four?) just proves Stiefvater’s prowess and her unstoppability in terms of keeping a story going with no loss from when you put down the previous book and start the next. With the plot getting crazier, more puzzle pieces falling together, and more doom and gloom gathering, “Blue Lily” is an AWESOME addition to the series, and it makes me hanker for book four even more. Trust me. You want this book.

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Review: “Kinslayer (Lotus War #2)” by Jay Kristoff


15773979Title: “Kinslayer”

Author: Jay Kristoff

Genre: Alternate Universe/History, Steampunk, AWESOME

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (SMP/Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: A SHATTERED EMPIRE
The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

☆: 5/5 stars – an absolutely awesome follow-up to book one!

Review: Because this book was more or less just as awesome in terms of all of the technical aspects of writing when compared to book one, I’m going to instead focus this review on one very interesting theme that I found ongoing throughout this installment of the series, and there will be some speculation if some of the finer aspects of that theme were intentional or not on Kristoff’s part. That being said, it’s no surprise that the followup to “Stormdancer” was awesome, but it felt like Kristoff grew a great deal between both books, and it shows. We’re moving more and more into adult territory with not only what actually happens plot-wise with Yukiko and company, but with themes and the like. And it’s a lovely thing to behold. If you’ve read “Stormdancer” and liked it, you’re going to love “Kinslayer”.

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Review: Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark


FreakboyTitle: Freakboy

Author: Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Genre: YA Contemporary, LGBT, Coming of Age

Publication Date: October 22, 2013

Source: print ARC from the publisher

Synopsis: From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?

In razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

☆: 3.5/5 stars – It’s a story that desperately needed telling and was executed well, but Clark needs to show off her own style

LGBT YA is something we’re always going to need more of. It’s been on the rise the last few years and it’s a joy to see LGBT books like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe taking home a bunch of awards. However,  I’ve personally noticed how YA tends to lean toward gay and lesbian characters and away from bisexual and transgender characters. If you expand to QUILTBAG (good lord, even I can’t remember what all those letters stand for and one of them represents me!), it becomes clear how even as YA is growing, there are still so many stories it’s not covering. Clark tells a story desperately underrepresented in YA and does it well, but it needs to really be hers.

All three POVs in this verse novel have something to add to the overall story, though some sections are weaker than others. Angel’s POV, for instance, is the strongest thanks to how she has it all figured out already and shows us the intersectionality of race, class, and gender identity. A POC male-to-female transgender person from a poor background like Angel isn’t going to have the same struggle a white upper-class male like Brendan is and thank goodness Clark recognizes this and makes it clear.

In comparison to Angel’s POV, Brendan’s and Vanessa’s are a lot weaker. Brendan spends most of the novel complaining, worrying, and such about whether or not he’s transgender. Vanessa’s is the weakest of all because so little of importance is in her sections, but it’s still important enough that she’s an integral part of the novel. When someone comes to realize they are or may be transgender or gender fluid, the boyfriend/girlfriend, partner, spouse, etc. has their own set of problems to deal with. It’s not as difficult as discovering your gender identity may not be what you thought it was, but it’s pretty difficult to learn your loved one is going through that and not know where you stand with them anymore.

The great issue here is that this doesn’t feel like it’s wholly Clark’s novel. It simply can’t be when her style is so strongly imitative of the way Ellen Hopkins writes. If someone took twenty pages of this novel and twenty pages of any Hopkins novel and handed them to a reader blind to either author, there’s a good chance they won’t realize the samples are from two different authors. Clark pulls all the same tricks Hopkins did in the four novels of hers I read: making symbolic shapes with her verse, hiding deeper thoughts within them, spacing them out to emphasize a point,…

Is it wrong for me to want to see Clark develop her own narrative techniques and play around with verse her way instead of imitating an author she admits she knows personally? It makes Freakboy feel a little less like her own creation, though it never gets derivative enough to be tacky or have plagiarism called on it.

I’m on board for any future novels from Clark because she makes it clear she knows how to tell stories most people don’t think about but should, but I desperately hope she comes into her own style instead of continuing to write like someone else.

Review: “The Dream Thieves (Raven Cycle #2)” by Maggie Stiefvater


The Dream ThievesTitle: The Dream Thieves

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA contemporary, Magical Realism, Mystery, Paranormal

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (Scholastic Press – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

☆: 4/5 stars – Not quite as amazing as “Raven Boys”, but still pretty damn good.

Review: If “Raven Boys” was Gansey’s book/the intro book, “Dream Thieves” is definitely Ronan’s book,  100%. We also get a lot of juicy details about backstory about Ronan and his brothers, as well as some new characters, and new mysteries to solve in order to get the boys back together, and back to business at hand. Yes, while “Dream Thieves” had a little more introspection than its predecessor, it’s still a really good sequel, and it’s making me froth at the mouth for book three.

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Review: The Cutting Room Floor by Dawn Klehr


The Cutting Room FloorTitle: The Cutting Room Floor

Author: Dawn Klehr

Genre: YA Contemporary, Mystery, LGBT

Publication Date: October 1, 2013 (Flux)

Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis: Behind-the-scenes secrets could turn deadly for Desmond and Riley.

Life in the Heights has never been easy for seventeen-year-old Riley Frost, but when she’s publicly dumped and outed at the same time, she becomes an immediate social outcast at her high school. So Riley swears off romance and throws herself into solving the shocking murder of her favorite teacher, Ms. Dunn.

Riley turns to her best friend, budding filmmaker Desmond Brandt, for help. What she doesn’t know is that Dez has been secretly directing her life, blackmailing her friends, and hoping his manipulations will make her love him. When his schemes go too far, Dez’s web of lies threatens to destroy both of their lives.

2.5/5 stars – Needs more of a focus so the bad gets thrown out and the good becomes great

Oh, The Cutting Room Floor. This one came really, really close to being great, but because it didn’t fully understand who it was (much like its co-narrator Riley!), I had a hard time understanding who it was too.  With a stronger focus and a lot of story-snipping, The Cutting Room Floor could be a dark tale of the lengths people go to when they’re obsessed and think they’re in love. What do readers get? A story with that, a lukewarm exploration of a girl’s sexuality, and a badly written, unneeded murder mystery.

Dez’s obsession with Riley and the horrifying lengths he goes to in order to make her like him back are strongly written and fulfilled all my expectations. Had this been the entirety of what the novel was about, this would have been a four-star or even a five-star read. He just about takes the spotlight away from Riley because he’s that well-written and thoroughly characterized. As he reveals what all he’s done in his pursuit of Riley, you can only stare with wide eyes and a gaping jaw. Horror rooted in obsession is one of my favorite kinds of horror to read!

The storyline about Riley’s burgeoning sexuality and how she’s not sure if she’s into girls or boys is okay, but the way everyone seems to be afraid of bisexuality really puts a damper on it. It’s treated like she was straight, then a lesbian, then straight again. I could ask if anyone in this novel has heard of bisexuality, but since it’s brought up a few times, it appears they have.

However, it’s only brought up in a situation where it will go nowhere or when someone says “screw the labels” when it comes to sexuality. It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s completely avoiding the issue instead of trying to address it. It is okay to openly say someone is bisexual. They are not disqualified from this even if they prefer men more at one time in their life and prefer girls more on another. GAH.

The murder mystery plot line is strong at first, but it quickly fizzles out, taking with it two important plot points that are neither brought up again nor resolved. When the killer is revealed, our narrators suddenly start throwing out all the evidence that person was the killer and acting like it was there all along–but readers never saw any of that evidence in the story. Rather than clever, it feels like someone gave up on trying to weave those clues into the story without making the killer’s identity obvious and decided to take the easy way out: hold it all in until the end and then backtrack. Doing so makes an already badly-written mystery even more frustrating.

In the end, this book needed a little more time in the editing room and more stuff left on the cutting room floor (it’s a pun that must be made!). The murder mystery is altogether unnecessary, the question of Riley’s sexual identity needs better handling, and Dez’s obsession with Riley is great but deserves more time.

Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater


The Dream ThievesTitle: The Dream Thieves

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA Paranormal, Magical Realism, Mystery

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (Scholastic Press)

Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis: The second installment in the all-new series from the masterful, #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater!

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

3/5 stars – A generally well-written but not always entertaining sequel to The Raven Cycle

Maggie Stiefvater is one hell of a writer. Her other books either don’t appeal to me or embody all the cliches I can’t stand, but this particular series really hooks me and goads me into putting aside my personal feelings about her for a while. Fans who loved everything The Raven Boys had to offer will love The Dream Thieves just as much, especially when it comes to Ronan.

The plot–especially its focus on Ronan, his ability to produce objects from his dreams, and who he really is–picks you up and takes you on a fun ride, however slow or poorly pathed out it can be due to too many extraneous details and a very strange plot line involving hit man Mr. Gray romancing Blue’s mother Maura. Things could happen more quickly than they do, but I love that I’m expected to put the many, many pieces of the world together myself instead of just being handed the completed puzzle.

Unfortunately, the good stuff doesn’t always feel worth it because about half the book is a dull read. What it does during that half is important, true, but there has to be a way to get the important stuff in without boring readers into putting down the book for days! Sitefvater is a competent writer and her riff on secrets in the prologue is one of my favorite passages in the entire book, but sometimes, it seems she’s trying too hard. The result of that is ridiculous prose like “He was attracted to her like a heart attack (ARC p. 59)” and dialogue I can’t imagine anyone ever saying.

But really, this is Ronan’s book 100%. He’s got the spotlight, the most interesting plot line, and a lot more depth than I imagined. Adam, my darling favorite, isn’t afraid of the spotlight either! The dark places this book takes him makes me wish Blue were into him instead of Gansey. Speaking of our fated duo, it seems like no real effort is made to create a connection between them this time around. It’s almost like we’re expected to cheer them on and believe in their love (which hasn’t even developed yet!) solely because they’re each other’s true love. Fate is not an excuse for poor development.

Readers should also beware because this has another cliffhanger ending, but it’s not the sort of “Ronan admits he pulled a living, breathing bird out of his dreams” ending like in The Raven Boys. Still a painful one for invested fans, though. I might stick around for book three, but I’ll need a while to think about it. A year is good enough, don’t you think?

Review: “Freakboy” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark


FreakboyTitle: “Freakboy”

Author: Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Genre: YA contemporary, GLBT, free verse

Publication Date: October 22, 2013 (Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?

In razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

☆: 4/5 stars – a really great (and badly needed) look into the trans part of the GLBT community!

Review: Yay, another book in YA addressing the trans population! This makes me happy. My co-blogger and I partially addressed this book in our LGBTQ Month of July post on the blog, but it’s time for a proper review. “Freakboy” follows the same free verse approach that Ellen Hopkins does, and for the most part, it works well with each character’s POV, getting across the main points of the book, and pumping up the tension a fair amount. Adding to my best of 2013 list, “Freakboy” is a book you simply can’t miss if you’re trans, or curious about the trans sub-culture within the LGBTQ community.

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