Posts Tagged With: Maggie Stiefvater

Fantasy, LeGuin, and Miscellany

I just heard the news that Ursula K. LeGuin died, and I am saddened beyond belief.  I think, like with Elie Wiesel, that I will need a while to gather my thoughts.  Right now, all I can think of is the books she wrote that I would recommend someone read, and it turns out that it’s all of them.  But she meant so much more to me than her literature, and to express that I will need time.

If you can get a copy, though, the one that sticks with me hardest today is her fake Ethnography of the Kesh people in post-nuclear California: Always Coming Home.  It’s a beautiful, odd, and terrifying thing that doesn’t read dystopic at all.  And of course you already know of the Earthsea series and The Left Hand of Darkness.

I have been trying to figure out a way to keep myself from going insane with boredom with nothing to do all day but hold a small boy, and I’ve been reading odd fantasy books: Maggie Stiefvater’s All The Crooked Saints (I cannot tell if I like this book or not because it was a hard one to love and yet it was so BEAUTIFULLY written…); Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor (where she does everything they tell you not to do in a novel and it still ended up claiming me completely); and Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin (the best thing I’ve read since Uprooted last year, and the first thing I’ve been head over heels for since Robin McKinley’s latest). It feels good to contemplate other worlds, and I think I’ll continue.

I have been reading the books out loud to the baby when he’s awake, and I’m sure he’s thoroughly confused now since he gets only snippets of whatever passage I’m on when he happens to have his eyes open.  I’ll warrant that he’s getting a pretty good vocabulary, though.  And a knowledge of his people, since his big eyes and pointed chin have me half-convinced he’s a Fairy himself.  Or maybe just a changeling.

It might just be a coincidence in timing (or his elfin heritage), but Fantasy books seem to have him sleeping better at night.  He’s been letting us sleep a solid 4 hours at a time most evenings, and even a 6 hour stretch every once in a while.  I never thought 4 hours of sleep would sound luxurious, but it does.

I have also stopped doing strange things in my sleep now that he’s sleeping longer.  So far I have woken Brian up twice to ask him to take the baby when the baby had already been sleeping in his bassinet for at least an hour.  And then there was the evening where I tried to convince Brian that I was feeding the baby right now, when the kid was actually in Brian’s arms and yelling at me about not being quick enough with the midnight snack.  Parenthood is mostly a comedy of errors, I’m finding.  But at least it’s a comedy…

Next on the reading list is probably Ellen Kushner’s Thomas the Rhymer.  But maybe I’ll get out some of my old LeGuin instead.  It’s been ages since I’ve read The Tombs of Atuan, or Voices – two I have read countless times in the past because they’re my favorites.

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Book Review: Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver, Linger)

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I fell so hard in love with The Raven Cycle books that I started following Maggie Stiefvater on Instagram and Tumblr.  Just so you know, her life is way cooler than yours (and mine).  I offer as evidence her explanation of a race between her and John Green, and their subsequent car fires.  I want to have car fires.  Or, rather, I’d like to have car fire stories I can tell after I’m home and safe.  Bonus points if I don’t actually have to have the car fire to begin with.

Yes, I know.  This is why I’m never going to be that cool.

But her awesomeness and my religion-like devotion to Blue and the boys meant that I needed to see if I had an awesome backlist to read.

The verdict?  While I’ll read the stuff she writes going forward (and maybe the Scorpio book?), I’m not terribly impressed with her older work.  I read the first two books of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series (Shiver and Linger), and I’m not sure if I’m going to read the last one.

The series has all the things it should to be amazing: beautiful writing, interesting characters.  It’s all danger, ice, snow, and wolves with some books and music and high school antics thrown in for good measure.  It’s like if all your fantasies of what Twilight should have been come true.

Except that for some reason the yummy ingredients make a flat cake.

You can see glimmers of the sassiness and truth that made Raven Boys such a gem, but the books never quite get there.  The best character in the whole series is Rachel, who gets very little screen time.  Grace, the main character, is too bland to inspire devotion and not bland enough that you can insert yourself on her without thinking about it too much.  The books are beautiful, but they lack profluence* in places as Stiefvater lingers on the relationship between Grace and Sam or on description. Plot twists are predictable.

I can forgive all those things, though. I have before for other authors.  I think the reason I can’t here is that there’s nothing new to grasp at, to make the other sins worth it.   It mostly feels like a series I’ve read before.  I like that series, I like that this is an ideal version of it, but in the end it has nothing to offer that I don’t already know.

That being said, I was interested enough to read the novels through pretty quickly.  The emotion she evokes in the books is genuine, and I found myself caring, if not about the characters, then about the outcome to their stories.  I will also say that the books won several awards, so I might be full of crap.

And, of course, as I’m looking at the book art to download the covers on the top of this blog I’m also seeing all the fan art and getting warm fuzzies about the series and the characters.

It’s a solid choice as a read, there are just other things out there with more to them.  I would recommend the Wolves of Mercy Falls books to people who haven’t read Twilight, and would heartily recommend the series instead of Twilight.  But if you’ve been down that road already, just go pick up Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest instead.  You’ll get more bang for your buck.  And if you haven’t read The Raven Cycle yet go do that IMMEDIATELY.

 

*Profluence: A term coined by John Gardener in his book “The Art of Fiction.” The sense that a plot is flowing, moving the reader continually and evenly toward a goal that is well planned; that we are getting somewhere.  It’s the way the cause-and-effect connective tissue that makes up a novel interacts with the overall plot and story arc.

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Book Reviews: The Raven Cycle

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Although I didn’t read as much as I expected I would on vacation (between my awesome family that I never get to see and the cold I caught, it was inevitable), I’ve been working on the books I wanted to read this last week.  Slower than vacation, but still charging ahead.

Which is to say, I have fallen headlong into the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater and I don’t think I’m ever coming out.  I am so in love with these books that I don’t want to read the end.  Because then it will be over and Gansey will be dead (maybe), and I can’t hang out at Monmouth Manufacturing or with Blue in her crazy house, or long to protect Ronan from his dreams, or see if Adam actually makes it out of Henrietta.  I’m as in love with them all as Blue is.  It’s amazing how that can happen in just a week.

I’m using quite a few of them in the reading challenge, so I thought I’d do a full review of the series.  All the things I mentioned above are stuff you learn within the first few chapters of the first book, so I don’t think they REALLY count as spoilers.  Certainly no more than Synopsys do.  I’ve tried to keep them out of the following as well.

The premise of all the books is that a group of 4 prep school boys, headed by the dynamic Richard Gansey III, are looking for the body of a Welsh king who is buried on a ley line in Virginia.  Blue Sargent, the daughter of the town psychic, has foreseen that Gansey will die this year.  They, of course, get enmeshed and start unleashing all sorts of supernatural stuff over the countryside.  And then there’s Blue’s curse that she will kill her true love, but only if she kisses him…

The Raven Boys:  I originally decided to pick up the series because Tumblr seemed to love it.  They love stuff I sometimes don’t, though, so I was still skeptical (I really didn’t like Hunger Games, for instance).  It was a solid book, well written and interesting.  I felt at the end of it as though I would certainly pick up the next book, but that it probably didn’t deserve all the endless hype.

That impression may not be entirely accurate to others’ experiences, though.  Tumblr spoiled one of the major secrets of the novel for me, which left me unsurprised when it was revealed.  Sometimes I can enjoy the build-up even if I know what’s happening, but in this case I mostly just felt like the novel was… I don’t know.  Not fully flat, but flatter than I’d like. Solid, but existing within many tropes of the genre.  Good fun but not a life-changer.  I would pick up other Stiefvater works, but she probably wouldn’t make the auto-read list of authors who I will buy their work no matter what.

I’m glad I kept reading, because it only got better.

The Dream Thieves: I do not know how to say enough of this book. Things get weird and creepy super-fast.  Where Raven Boys felt likely and somewhat predictable to those who know the genre, Dream Thieves did not at all.  It’s rare for a sequel to be better than the original, but this one was better in spades.  Bonus points for a strangely loveable hit man, some car racing, and some seriously scary dreams.

It was like now that Stiefvater had done all the foundation work, she could really let loose.  This book makes you love and fear Ronan, makes you ache for his family, and introduces a higher magic into the Raven Boys world all at the same time.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue: It is in this book that things really start to open up.  It’s no longer a small group of boys and Blue looking for a king.  It’s a world of dangerous people out for dangerous things.  It fulfils the promise of its atmosphere that people will die.  It’s a book of caves, forests, bees, and blood.  The boys cling to their prep school antics, but it starts to feel like they are clinging to a semblance of sameness and not actually jolly.

The thing I appreciated most about this book was that it focuses more on the women of Fox Way than other books have.  It’s the most female-centric of the series, though the boys are still main players.  The ladies at Fox Way are just such interesting characters that it adds an additional dimension to the series that wasn’t there before.  I can’t say too much more without spoiling it all, but I’ll just say “HOLY CRAP!” and let you read it for yourself.

The Raven King: I didn’t want to start this book, because it meant the end.  And the end is a scary thing when it likely contains the death of Gansey.  It was prophesied within the first few pages of the series, which means it has to happen somehow.  I’m just crossing my fingers that the way it happens isn’t somehow permanent.  Or that they can stop it.  By now, I’m as in love with Gansey as the rest of them are.  I’d follow him into an underground tomb in a heartbeat too.

I thought Lily Blue was tense and deadly, but Raven King as proven to be more so, by spades.  The things they had managed to sort of tie together haphazardly before, or ignore, all come unraveled in disorderly and frightening ways.  I didn’t exactly have nightmares, but I dreamed that I could dream the way Ronan does.  Which shows how much this has gotten into my psyche.  The book has fulfilled all my longings for the series and then some, too, which is nice.  It’s a good wrap up.  Even though I don’t want it to be wrapped up…

The long and short of it is that I now feel like the book not only deserves all the hype, but that I never want the series to end EVER.  I’ll even wait a year for the next book.  Please, Maggie?  I don’t care if it’s all done, I can’t give them up.  My only regret is that I’m visiting my sister in law (who lives in Virginia) at Christmas time.  It would have been lovely to read a series I’m obsessed with in the location it’s set.  If only I had waited… (I’m also glad I didn’t wait).

Oh well, I’ve bought all the pretty hardback copies and they’re winging their way to me via Amazon right now.  I’ll just have to reread them 6 months from now at Christmas time.

And in the meantime, I have plenty of other things to console me.  I’m in too much of a book hangover to contemplate what, exactly, but I’m sure I’ll start something else soon.

 

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A Very Gothic Vacation

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It is a scant 4 weeks away from the summer vacation I’m taking this year.  It’s just for 4 days, but that’s still a miracle considering I started this job less than 6 months ago and I really thought I wasn’t going to get to go anywhere this year.  Everything was approved this week at work, though.  I really CAN go!

Vacation means vacation reads, which I’m already thinking about.  I’ll be gone for about 5 days, which means 5 books with a couple to spare maybe, if things get interesting.  I like to have themes for vacation, because I find that it makes books inseparable from the landscape.  I’ll never forget reading Tolkien in Yosemite, or Always Coming Home while road-tripping up the California coast, Jonathan Livingston Seagull at my aunt’s beach house, or Jane Austen in my other aunt’s house on the river.

I’ve decided I’m going for gothic fantasy on this one.  There’s a lot of that genre I want to read, by authors I love, and I hate to read books that consume me when I’m not able to devote time to them.   Vacation is the perfect time for that.  I’m going to Massachusetts with a visit to Plimoth Plantation planned.  You might think I should go straight to Phillbrick’s stuff and get all the pilgrim I can out of the vacation.  But Massachusetts is also the home of Salem…  Gothic horror is totally legit, I think.

What am I planning to read?  Here goes:

  • Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray: 2nd of the Diviner books, in which Evie O’Neil is now a famous seer, but can she and her friends stop the crazy sleeping sickness that’s plaguing the slums of New York?
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: I have no idea what this is about save that there’s some sort of beast in the forest that the main character was told to stay away from. And it’s Holly Black.  That’s all I really need to know.
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: A girl named Blue hooks up with 3 boys from a local prep school who are looking for a dead Welch king. Tumblr can’t get enough of it, so I’m taking their advice.
  • The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters: Victorian mesmerist gives the main character supernatural powers.   I saw this at my local indie shop and have been wondering about it ever since.
  • Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell: An old lady opposes the building of a big box store on the town border because it will literally unleash hell if the town’s borders are breached. It’s a novel, so…
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness: Descendant of first witch to ever be murdered in Salem accidentally comes across a book in a library that makes her run to a vampire for help. Sounds like just the kind of smut I love.

The Back Ups:

  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Valiant by Holly Black
  • Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter

That will more than do me for the trip.  I sort of consider all of the Maggie Stiefvater books of the same thing since they’re all the same series.  Whether I move on to Holly and Angela or not depends on how infatuated I am with Maggie’s stuff.  Tumblr loves those Raven Boys, but Tumblr is sometimes wrong (I know, I said it).

I’ll report back in a few weeks on the stuff I ACTUALLY read.  Much thanks to TOR for their recommendations, and also to The Book Seer (and my sister, for sending the link to me).

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