Book Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater definitely delivered on the third book in her Raven Cycle.

The romance was powerful, the plot was enchanting and complex, and the characters only got deeper and realer.

5/5 stars

Book three of the Raven Cycle

This book is on my Top Shelf.

cover blue lily lily blue

Amazon description of Blue Lily, Lily Blue:

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.

I have been waiting for this book since the minute I finished The Dream Thieves. The ending of book two perfectly transitioned into book three, which I really appreciated.

And what a book it was. Stiefvater scaled back on the dark intensity that dominated The Dream Thieves and replaced it with a subtle but powerful pace. She found the perfect balance between the tones of books one and two and ran with it. The writing is, as always, beautiful. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is one of the most successful third books in a series I’ve read, avoiding the stagnation that often occurs as long series lag in the middle.

I can’t quite decide what to say about this book. It wasn’t as sad as I thought it would be. It wasn’t as dramatic as I thought it would be. But somehow, I still really enjoyed it. I feel like Stiefvater found her pace for the series and settled into it. Blue Lily, Lily Blue moved the series along in the series but made it clear that the series is far from over. The character development continued, but wasn’t as severe as it was in The Dream Thieves, I think simply because so much was revealed about each character in the second book.

I will say that I actually liked Adam’s character in this book. For the first two, he just felt like he was in the way of the plot, but in this book he plays an active role in the entire story, instead of being somewhat separate from the rest of the book.

Blue and Gansey’s relationship in this book is wonderfully complicated. I can’t say much more without spoiling anything, but suffice to say that fans anxiously awaiting developments in their romance won’t be disappointed.

I like the fantasy elements in this book. They are slightly different from the ones in earlier books, another sign that the series is progressing along instead of stagnating. Also, the list of soon-to-be-dead from the first scene of The Raven Boys plays an important role in this book, which I liked because it linked the series together.

I can’t believe I have to wait another who-knows-how-long to read the next part of the story. I’m so in love with all of the characters and the world Stiefvater has created.

Book Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the book that made me love the Raven Cycle. Rereading it, I just fell more in love.

5/5 stars

Book 2 of the Raven Cycle

This book is on my Top Shelf.

Amazon description of The Dream Thieves:

If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?
Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.
One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.
And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.
Ronan is one of the raven boys – a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface – changing everything in its wake.

The second book  in the Raven Cycle combines the subtle fantasy of The Raven Boys with a fascinating darkness. The plot is faster, grittier, and more surprising. The characters are deeper. The conflicts continue from book one and only get more intense.

The writing is breathtaking. Stiefvater not only has a magnificent command of character and emotional descriptions, she can also create dialogue exchanges with perfect-rhythm. I’m not sure if I’m describing that very well, but if you read the book, I hope you understand.

I’m going to review the book by talking about the characters, because the plot is driven by each one, and I absolutely love each character anyway.

Let’s start with Mr. Gray. I love him. Though his character starts out playing largely the same role as Barrington Whelk in the last book, the Gray Man’s character was infinitely more successful at being interesting. To be honest, the chapters dealing with Whelk last book were slow and didn’t really add to the story until the end.

Mr. Gray’s chapters are so much fun to read. His character evolution was subtle and fast at the same time. I loved the role he played in regards to Maura–I felt that this book really too advantage of the adult characters involved. Stiefvater established the women of 300 Fox Way as rough outlines in book one, but in this book each of the main women really developed; instead of awkwardly hovering at the edge of the story, their integration was effortless and moved the story forward.

Next, Ronan. He’s basically the main character of this one–and I’m not complaining. His character is so much more complex than you could ever imagine after book one. With his character, Stiefvater took her series past of the almost-blandness of book one and created a dark, suspenseful plot rooted in both paranormal and regular teenage experiences.

And Kavinsky. He had a few lines of dialogue with Ronan in book one, but he takes on a whole new role in book two. He’s the devil on Ronan’s shoulder to counter Gansey, and that juxtaposition really highlighted the importance of Gansey in Ronan’s life and Ronan’s internal struggles.

Then there’s Adam. Honestly, he’s never been my favorite character, and he isn’t exactly likable in this book, but that’s the point, I think. After the end of book one, his character embodies the conflicts between the Raven Boys, and he definitely serves to move the story along. Certain plot points involving him, however, dragged on, even if they did enhance the story overall.

Last but not least, Blue and Gansey. Neither of them play massive roles in this book or undergo crazy character changes. I would say it is more fair to say that each of their characters just develops more–the reader gets to have a deeper understanding of both of them. In particular, Gansey’s sense of self worth is explored a lot in the second book, which I liked.

I can’t wait to read the third book, Blue Lily, Lily Blue.

A few comments that contain spoilers (ranging from mild to severe):

I loved the grittiness Kavinsky brought to the book. The street racing, the drugs, the evilness–it took me completely by surprise the first time I read it, but it was exactly what the series needed to stop being just an interesting book about ley lines and Welsh mythology.

The romance between Blue and Gansey is so freaking adorable and heart-wrenching. The scene in the mountains between them broke my heart. And I really hated Adam at that moment.

Ronan being gay is basically my favorite thing ever. It fleshed out his character and really influenced his dynamic with Kavinsky. Ronan has always been an angry, self-hating character, and I thought the subtle but significant reveal Stiefvater strung through this book helped to explain part of that.

I can’t decide if I want Adam to be with Persephone or Ronan. I’m not sure I care. Both would enhance the book–and give Blue and Gansey some slack.

Thoughts On…Dialect and Terminology

thoughts on dialect and terminology

Dialect, when used well, can be the holy grail of writing stories. It is when authors use the spelling of words to indicate character’s accents. Terminology, dialect’s younger cousin, is just when authors make up certain words to integrate into characters’ speech as a world-building technique.

There are the obvious but powerful implementations of dialect. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck gives characters from different regions of America different speech patterns and dialects. It’s subtle, but the differences demonstrate the amount of work and thought Steinbeck put into the novel.

In his Chaos Walking trilogy, Patrick Ness utilized dialect better than any author I’ve ever read. The main character, Todd, begins the book speaking in a heavy dialect, with any word ending in “tion” being written as “shun” as well as other similar techniques. Ness’s use of dialect pushed past portraying an accent, however, to reflect Todd’s lack of education. As the series progresses, Todd meets more educated characters who speak without the dialect, and the effect is seen in his own speech pattern. By the end of the series, Todd’s dialogue is written in normal English, subtly representing his character’s growth.

Personally, I enjoy dialect simply because I am bad at reading characters in anything other than my own voice. I can’t speak in accents or read words in different accents–it is just something I’ve never had a grasp on. When authors physically show me how they intend for me to read their conversations, it gives me something to work with.

As a side note, one of my only complaints with Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle is that I have no idea what a Henrietta accent sounds like. There is a definite juxtaposition of the rich, privileged residents who don’t speak with the accent, and the poorer residents of the town, but no matter how many times Stiefvater metaphorically describes the vowels in the accent–I can’t get it. I can tell Stiefvater intended the accents to be symbolic, and I can get the symbolism from her writing, but not from an actual understanding of the sounds. It’s frustrating.

In regards to terminology, basically any book that doesn’t take place in either modern day or historical times will have different phrases and names added to the characters’ vocabularies as a part of the author’s world building. For some authors, weaving in new terms effortlessly enhances their story. For others, the first chapters of their books are crowded with unexplained terms that leave the reader confused and frustrated. I’ve read so many books that ended up being great, but that I spent the first fifty pages wishing the author would give me a clue what they are talking about.

I loved the way Beth Revis invented new curse words–among other things–for her characters to use in Across the Universe. On a spaceship that has had centuries to develop its own culture, it really made sense that they would have their own curse words.

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I am so in love with Maggie Steifvater there aren’t words. This book just keeps getting better every time I reread it.

5/5 stars

Book one of the Raven Cycle

*This book is on my Top Shelf*

Amazon description of The Raven Boys:

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

The Raven Cycle is magical and whimsical. I love it. At first, Maggie Stiefvater’s world building seems like nothing more than infusing a few old myths with a modern town setting.

It is so much more, and I can’t even begin to describe it. READ THE BOOK.

The writing is incredible. Steifvater has an incredible talent for putting words together in a way that you never would have imagined but that works perfectly. Her writing style matches the subtly magical tone of the series. She effortlessly lets you see into her characters’ minds, foreshadows the plot and yet keeps you guessing. The plot is subtle and admittedly slow the first time you read it (but every time you reread it you know what’s coming it is soooo intense), but it builds to a complex climax.

The book has deep societal themes woven into the story. I like the way that Stiefvater doesn’t overpower her series with social messages, but lets them shine through on their own. Specifically, I felt like the messages about poverty and teenagers’ identities were done well.

It is the characters that make this book for me. Blue is just absolutely wonderful. She’s eccentric and proud, aware of her roots, and willing to stick to her beliefs. Blue is the only non-psychic in a house bursting with them, gifted with the unique ability to make other people’s psychic gifts stronger. This obviously leaves her with a bit of an identity crisis as to what she wants to do with her life–and she finds the answer with a mysterious quartet of Raven Boys.

Blue has always avoided Raven Boys, the elite preppy students of Agloinby Academy  that dominate her small town of Heneritta. Gansey and his three loyal friends break the mold, allowing Blue to join their ranks in their quest for a long-lost Welsh king and magical things called ley lines.

The friendship between the Raven Boys (and eventually Blue) is amazing. I love books that capture the feeling of being in a indestructible friend group, and this book epitomizes this. Each of the boys individually has a complex, troubled character, full of quirks and nuances without being cheesy or overdone. The dynamic between the four boys is complicated and real. Stiefvater lets it slowly unfold over the course of the book, starting with a random group of schoolboys and deepening their relationship until they are basically brothers.

And then there’s Gansey. If I could date one boy I’ve ever read about, I’d date Gansey. Basically hands down. He’s hot, and literate, and addictive. He is an enigma and he is sooo much fun to read about.

The romance. All that I’ll say is that it is not what you would expect. From the synopsis, it seems like this is going to be a series dominated by the cheesy and annoying trope of I-love-you-but-I-can’t-have-you. It isn’t. The romance does not play out the way it seems like it should (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read it), and it never takes over the plot, which is focused around the ley lines search. I really respect Stiefvater for writing an interesting romantic plot point (Blue will kill her true love if she kisses him), but still creating a plot autonomous from it.

The last line of the book. All I can say is that it redefines cliffhanger, but in a good way (I usually hate endings like that). Anyone who has read the book can attest to the wait–what?-ness of the ending. I could not wait for the second book to answer my questions.

I’ll admit the book is a little slow the first time you read it. However. The writing and the way Stiefvater crafted the tale is still amazing and can still be appreciated. Also, it’s better if you reread it. Also, the second book is SOOOOO GOOD that you will forgive the first book for ever making you doubt the amazingness of the series.

I’m rereading the second book, The Dream Thieves, right now, and loving it, of course. To anyone who read book one and wasn’t convinced: please read the second one. Seriously.

The third book in the cycle, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, just came out and I’m dying to read it. Reviews for books two and three coming!

Poetry: Inertia

Inertia:

It is not that I run away

From life

And its

Responsibilities

Chances

And maybes

 

It is more that I let myself

Sit still

While the rest of the world

Runs past

Because “no”

Is shorter

And easier

And less scary

Than any version

Of yes

Why I’m Not Taking Part in NaNoWriMo, etc.

nanowrimo

We’ve all heard of the NaMos taking place this November. NaNoWriMo challenges writers to write a novel in a month. NaNoBloPo asks bloggers to post once a day for a month.

I’d love to take part in both of these events. I think they would seriously enrich me as a person and let’s be honest, I need a kick in the pants if I’m ever going to finish a second draft (which is turning out to basically be a new first draft) of my novel.

However.

November just isn’t a good month for me. I have finals right before winter break starts, so November is the part of the semester where all my teachers try to cram in everything they need to have taught me for my finals. I’m desperately trying to remember the stuff they taught me earlier in the year. I have a large Speech and Debate competition this month and a lot of the clubs I’m a part of are getting serious.

A month like July would be better.

I know I sound like a wimp using school as an excuse, especially since the point of the NaMos is to push past your excuses and WRITE. Unfortunately, I’m at a point in my life where I feel that I seriously need to value school over personal projects like blogging or writing (no matter how much I wish both pursuits would get recognition as legitimate parts of my life).

So, no promise of daily posts or the formation of a novel during this month.

On the other hand, I love the spirit of the NaMos, so I’ve set myself some (realistic) goals for the month of November:

  1. Post at least three times (hopefully four) a week on this blog.
  2. Work on my novel, Devil May Care. I’m going to write down random scenes that have been floating around in my mind, do some serious plotting, do more research to help expand my story, and get a second draft STARTED at least.
  3. Write in general! I haven’t touched Hell and Styx in MONTHS, and I really need to pick that back up. I have poems and short stories nagging at me to be written, and I want to finally write them.
  4. I want to read at least six books this month (hopefully I’ll push past that to a nice round number of ten). I have a week long Thanksgiving break, so this is actually doable. This is in the spirit of Kaitlin over at Reasoning Red Head’s post NaNoREADMo.
  5. Lastly, I’d like to actually start taking It Matter to Us, the political blog I share with my twin, seriously. As in, ever posting at all. I started it over summer and then dropped it when school started, even thought the point was that it would work hand in hand with Speech and Debate and keep me up-to-date on current events. I’m not setting a number of posts a week, but I think I should make five posts this month. That sounds reasonable.

What about you guys? Are you taking part in any of the NaMos? Are you setting yourself other random goals?

A massive shout-out to anyone who is taking part in the NaMos. They are making the commitment that I’m not–and I love that. It’s incredible to commit yourself to any of these tasks. Congratulations for taking the first step, and good luck!

Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Guys! I read a classic! (for English class)

And I liked The Grapes of Wrath. It felt very classic-y. I definitely liked the social commentary dealing with capitalism, the paradox of the American Dream, the meaning of community, et cetera, et cetera–more than the actual story.

Warning: there will be spoilers. I’m assuming many people have read this book, and I’m feeling too lazy to specifically mark each spoiler I mention. If you haven’t read this book yet (and plan to)–don’t read this review!

cover grapes of wrath

Amazon description:

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s powerful landmark novel is perhaps the most American of American Classics.

Let me start off by saying this: Steinbeck is an incredible writer. This book really opened my eyes to the greatness and the let’s call it not-so-greatness that is America. The effortless way with which Steinbeck weaves powerful themes throughout both his intercalary chapters and his larger plot is breath-taking. The novel forces you to examine the world that you live in, and to understand that we as Americans today have not moved past the corruption and exploitation showcased in this story, but have changed the clothes it wears. In this regard, I have the utmost respect and awe for the literary work that Steinbeck crafted.

The Grapes of Wrath is a gift to annotating high school students everywhere. There is so much symbolism, juxtaposition, magnificent diction, and social commentary–and for that I desperately thank Steinbeck Homework went by quickly.

The intercalary chapters (AKA the “in between” or “not Joad” chapters) are definitely my favorite part of the book. In my opinion (at least from this book and the other one of his that I’ve read, The Pearl), Steinbeck’s strength lies in crafting beautiful short stories. The intercalary chapters had, for me, the deepest messages about America, capitalism, family, strife, morality, and life itself. Chapter 15 (the one that takes place in the diner) literally ripped out my heart. It was perfect. I think I might have preferred the book if the Joads’ story was removed and only the intercalary chapters remained, but then again, the Joads’ story is undeniably important to the novel.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really like the Joads. Their characters weren’t really relatable (and I’m not just saying that because I’m not a farmer in the Dust Bowl) and I honestly did not like a majority of them. Ruthie and Winfield, though they helped to exemplify the strife the Joads experienced, were annoying. Connie was a slimeball (though that did actually make him one of the more complex characters) and Rose of Sharon was a clueless bitch (until that last scene, which was creepy but helped to round out her character). The rest of the characters felt very flat. They were perfectly drawn in the beginning of the book in true Steinbeck-ian style, but two-hundred pages in, I felt like they hadn’t changed at all. Ma was the powerful, take-no-shit mother figure. Pa was the father figure who believed in hard work but sort of sucked at leading the family. Uncle John was the remorseful alcoholic. Al liked cars and sex. Noah had basically two sentences before he vanished down the stream.

I read books for characters. I want to watch them grow, develop, change to accommodate the strife in their lives. The Joads didn’t do this for me. Through their eternal struggle, they held onto their Okie pride and faith in the world’s rewarding of hard work (no matter how many times they were exploited and screwed over). Sure, their refusal to give up was annotatable as heck, but from the standpoint of a reader for enjoyment, it didn’t work.

I could never decide what Tom’s character was. He was definitely the most complex, and had the most significant character arc over the course of the story. He wasn’t necessarily an impressive character, however.

Casy was inarguably my favorite character. His religious philosophy was brilliant, and perfectly juxtaposed with the religious climate of the day (which is still seen often today). He drove the story forward and had some amazing speeches. I annotated the heck out of his allusion to Jesus, and it was great. His death scene was one of the most moving scenes in the book.

I know this review has a very negative tone, and I’d like to stress that I have an overall positive view of the book. However, I believe the eternal strength of the work is its social commentary, not the Joads’ plot.