The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Synopsis: All her life, Blue Sargent has been told by her clairvoyant aunts and mother that if she kisses her true love, he will die.While Blue does not possess the gift of clairvoyance, she has the ability to amplify other psychics powers and on the night of St. Mark’s Eve, when those fated to die in the next twelve months walk through the church grounds, Blue sees a spirit, Gansey’s spirit in fact. Unfortunate for her, those without the power to see the dead only see the spirits of their true love, or the ones they are going to kill.
As fate would have it, Blue comes face to face with Gansey and his crew of Anglionby prep school friends and slowly begins to form a friendship with the four boys, joining in on Gansey’s wild quest to find the dead Welsh King, Glendower.
Gansey, on the other hand, has been on a mission to find the resting spot of Glendower for years, a mission that has consumed his life and defined his friendships.
Review: I will be honest, I tried to read the Shiver series a while ago and it was not for me. Much like Cassandra Clare, I told myself I wasn’t going to waste my time on anything else by Maggie Stiefvater, but here we are, flying along on the hype train. Well, I read The Raven Boys and my initial impression is that is was much better than I expected, which is a plus!

Let’s discuss the negatives first to get this out of the way. It took me a depressingly long time to get into this book and enjoy the story. Admittedly, I was so confused with what was happening that I began to dread the reading process, so I started listening to the audio book in order to get through a huge chunk of the book (a solution I do not suggest, considering how completely horrendous the narration is, but it worked). Even so, the point of this hunt for a Welsh King was utterly lost on me, if not at times convoluted and irrational. I had the sinking feeling that I had just picked up another disappointing read thanks to my inability to exit the hype train.

BUT! Once I got a good chunk in I realized that The Raven Boys is a book structured around characters and relationship, rather than story line. There was never a question in my mind that the character development was top notch and intentionally the centerfold of this story. Even if I didn’t like a character, it was fun to dislike them, and I unexpectedly felt very attached to everyone I met regardless of likeability. (But we all know that Blue and Noah are the GREATEST OF ALL TIME). As I began to grow attached to these characters and understand that this story is not completely about the paranormal, the Welsh King, or this impossible quest, I began to thoroughly enjoy The Raven Boys.

Maggie has a way of making you feel emotionally invested in each personality. I hurt when Adam hurt, felt giddy with Gansey, understood Ronan’s anger, and felt Noah’s emptiness. I am not sure the last time I felt so intimately connected to a character, let alone a whole slew of characters.

Also, Maggie has a knack for cliffhangers…

I gave this book a 3.5/5 stars!
–Stephanie

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Synopsis: At seventeen years old Mariko, the daughter of a prominent Samurai, is promised to marry the heir of the Imperial Kingdom in order to strengthen ties and status for her family. On Mariko’s trip to the Imperial Kingdom the Black Clan attacks her and her convoy. In order to understand why she has had a target on her back, Mariko takes on the identity of a boy and infiltrates the Black Clan. Meanwhile, Mariko’s twin brother, Kenshin, a Samaria known as The Dragon, is convinced his sister is still alive despite news of her death and is determined to find who has taken her captive.

Review: So this book was sold to me as a “Mulan retelling,” pushing aside the fact that this was set in Japan, not China, or the fact that there is a marriage born purely out of alliance, it would still be a giant leap to say this was close to a Mulan retelling. Mariko, our protagonist, was not fighting for her country in place of her father or anyone for that matter. Her motives were solely based on trying to understand why the Black Clan would attack her convey with the intentions to kill. Despite my expectations, I enjoyed this story immensely and probably because it had its own story to tell.

This story is full of grit, action, ancient feuds, honor, and political intrigue. Something I didn’t really take notice of until later, this isn’t a book constructed around romance, romance is sprinkled in, but there is so much more to this story and the complex ties these characters have to one another. But, with all the action and feuds, it seemed like there were so many parts that dragged on for far too long. There were many moments I had to go back and reread chapters or paragraphs because my mind began to wander and I lost track of what was happening, which is never really a good sign.

Character wise, I liked Mariko, she was witty, courageous, and an intellectual force to be reckoned with, though she had those moments where she seemed to have this mentality of “I’m surrounded by idiots” and it made me laugh because she had her own questionable moments when it came to intelligence. Interestingly, I really enjoyed The Dragon’s story line and his personality. In the beginning he grated on my nerves, but slowly he began to grow on me and I loved watching him change and grow throughout the story.

I did feel like each of the characters we were introduced to were interesting, I wanted to know their stories and understand their motives, and understand their dynamics with each of the other characters. Since I am someone who is tends to lean more toward character driven books, these characters made up for the moments in the plot that dragged.

Overall, the story was captivating and the characters were interesting, I really love this concept and have high hopes for the books to come!

I gave this book a 3.7/5 stars.

–Stephanie