[Goodbye Days] Jeff Zentner

Goodbye Days immerses us in tragedy. There’s no warning, much like how the tragedy unfolded.  Carter is at the final funeral of his three best friends after a horrific car crash claimed them all, contemplating carpet patterns in an effort to put-off the impending wave of grief. He’s numb and worried about how many people blame him, because he certainly does. When Mar’s phone was found, he was replying to Carter’s message. So yes, Carver believes that he “wrote his friends out of existence.”

In The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner introduced how tragedy can come at any moment and how coming to terms with it–if you even can–is something that you can only do yourself. Of course, the people around you suffering from the same tragedy can help you, but ultimately, we all internalize tragedy and how we deal with it differently. This is constant in Goodbye Days. It’s in the moments of forgetting right when Carver gets up, in the moments when he’s doing something mundane–just living–and it comes crashing down on him that his three friends will never be able to complete that comic they were drawing, never participate in another joke, never write another song. Grief and forgetting comes in waves, and the guilt for forgetting is crippling.

Gradually, the grief becomes manageable, but it never leaves. I felt that Zentner was able to convey that perfectly with his writing as he illustrated the different forms that grief takes after a tragedy. Like The Serpent King, it felt real. Contemporary novels tend to deal with real problems that teens go through (the ones that aren’t only about romance, at least), but sometimes there’s an element of it being contrived that keeps me from truly enjoying it. Zentner’s work is not that way. His characters would have no trouble walking off of the pages and onto the streets. They’re that realistic. They breathe. You ache and cheer with them. It’s absolutely incredible and a treat to meet his new characters.

This book is unique in the sense that it has both living and deceased characters. Through Carter’s own words and memories we’re introduced to Sauce Crew: Eli, Blake, and Mars. As he remembers them we’re shown just how amazing they were to the people around them and what their loved ones lost when they died. And that’s where the name of the novel comes in.

“Goodbye days” are a way to say goodbye to the one you’ve lost. For an entire day, you do the things that remind you of them or what they liked doing. Whenever we lose someone, we wish that we could have just one more moment with them. These goodbye days are a way to remember them as you try to let them go. Everyone holds a different part of their loved one–you may know that your friend loved dancing, but didn’t know that they were a secret enka fan. In a goodbye day, everyone comes together and shares those things so you have a complete picture of the one you lost. And then you say goodbye.

Goodbye Days is a beautiful novel that has many heart wrenching moments of the reality of death and how suddenly it can come. It’s even more tragic when people the lives of young people are cut short. It’s a novel with a message, but not one that takes over the narrative. Texting while driving is something that occurs every day, though it shouldn’t happen at all. When it’s a habit to have a phone in our hand, we don’t always think of the consequences of our actions. Carver constantly goes back to that text. Where are you guys? Text me back. It follows him throughout the novel. It’s there in therapy, where he tries to reinforce his guilt instead of forgiving himself for a mistake and it’s there in the threat of a criminal investigation. Zentner shows just how tragic the consequences can be. And there’s no taking it back.

Zentner’s second novel is a force that shows he is one of the contemporary young adult authors to read. With characters and settings that are written with the finesse of someone who knows the setting and has worked with teenagers, any novel that Zentner comes up with is sure to delight both those who follow his career and those new to his work. With Goodbye Days,  Zentner is solidly in my list of top contemporary authors.

5 stars.

 

[Dreamwielder] Garrett Calcaterra

Dreaming is magic in this one, and magic is forbidden. It seems like it will be an exciting mix of magic v. mechanical, so I'm pretty interested in getting into this one. We'll see if this first book makes me want to continue with the series.

Dreamwielder started in the middle of the action, set in a world that had already been conquered and one where magic is outlawed. I love that that it started in the middle, because we’re thrown into a world that is dealing with the aftermath of this–dealing with the aftermath of wars, usurpations, and failed rebellions–but that is not the entire focus of the novel. We meet Makarria, a girl who has strange power in her dreams, as one of the people trying to eke out a life with her family. Far from the Emperor’s realm, Makarria believes that life is only about the small farmstead by the sea. Forbidden to dream by her parents, Makarria does her best to obey. When her dreams create something that put her on the Emperor’s map, she flees and begins to understand that her life is not as simple as she had thought. With a well-written cast of characters, Dreamwielder surpassed my expectations of what sort of fantasy novel this was.

I was really impressed with the characters in this. Divided between several characters of different backgrounds, Garrett Calcaterra blended each of their stories and lives into a cohesive narrative that I loved. It was a little slow at first because of the world-building, but as the world and characters built, I eventually couldn’t wait to see what Calcaterra came up with next. The cast was diverse in age, so that meant that their experiences were all different. I wasn’t treated to a book with characters that were so similar they may as well have been one. One of them was a prince who was a hostage–my particular favorite because he had no magic in this world of magic. I liked reading how he coped with having a sister who had visions and dealt with being a protector who had no powers other than his own fighting talent. On the opposite side of that was Makarria, a girl who had lost her family and was slowly discovering just what her talents could do. All of the characters were strong, and I appreciated that the female characters didn’t wait around to be rescued. I liked that they surprised the male characters with their actions.

I also enjoyed that there were secrets surrounding the characters and they were often unaware of these secrets themselves. I like when the author treats the reader to a little more information than what the characters know, because it’s fun to read how they’re revealed to the characters. Reading as their paths got closer together made for some exciting reading.

Although Dreamwielder has the potential to be entirely full of clichés, it’s well-written enough that you hardly notice there are even clichés. Dreamwielder begins with an idea of a series of kingdoms under siege and in a hostage situation. A ruler has come in and conquered these kingdoms but allows them to still have agency in their own cities, provided they send an heir to be held hostage at another location. There’s a focus on the political and the tensions that come with that, but that focus is also wrapped up in magic. Originally, the kingdoms were full of sorcerers who wielded magic for the good of their kingdoms. When the conqueror came in, he killed many of those who had magic and others went into hiding. It’s kind of like a young adult Game of Thrones, but done in a way where you don’t have the potential to mix up the vast cast of characters.

My favorite aspect of this novel was how magic was pitted against the mechanical. Magic is in the past and is viewed by the Emperor and his supporters as something that stands in the way of progress. By vilifying it, the Emperor maintains his control over the world. The repercussions of having it or protecting it are so severe that people are willing to turn in their neighbors in order to protect themselves. It’s entirely a way to keep people from rebelling. The Emperor’s home city is vastly different than that of the formerly magical cities. I really liked reading the industrial parts of it, because it was so different.

The world created in Dreamwielder is similar to other fantasy stories, but because of the strong characters and clear writing, it ended up being more than just another young adult fantasy novel. I wasn’t disappointed in how the book was divided between several characters because all of their smaller stories made up the whole.  I was really interested in dreaming as a power and am interested in seeing how Makarria grows in the next novel. I recommend it for readers who like fantasy, magic, and the threat of overlords.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Dreamwielder from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Dreamwielder was published September 29th, 2015.

[The Raven King: The Raven Cycle IV] Maggie Stiefvater 

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This is it. The final book of The Raven CycleThe Raven King finishes what was started in The Raven Boys. Finally on the last legs of their quest, Gansey hurtles toward Glendower as Blue tries desperately to think of a way to free him from the future that she knows is coming sooner rather than later. Darker things have come to Henrietta and the raven boys and Blue struggle to find a way to stop them before it’s too late. Everything they’ve known–about themselves, about Glendower and Cabeswater–will be tested.

As a conclusion to the series, The Raven King satisfied most of what I wanted from it. But not all. What I appreciated about the first three novels–namely the family dynamic, the psychics of Fox Way, the enigma of Cabeswater–was overshadowed in The Raven King by the growing relationship between Gansey and Blue, Adam learning how to best be a conduit for Cabeswater, and Ronan’s growing prowess as a dreamer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all of those parts. But I missed all of the other parts that made the novel whole. I thought they were brushed aside in this novel to make way for the bigger parts, and I could really sense their loss. There was something missing from The Raven King because these pieces were lighter than they were in the first three novels. Some of these things were completely dropped from the narration, as if they had served their purpose and didn’t need to be mentioned ever again. What happened to the psychics? What happened to Noah? What happened to Gwenllian? These are just a few things that felt forgotten. There were so many loose ends.

My favorite characters in this were Ronan and Adam. Their arcs were really fascinating. Adam’s growth in particular was really well done. From being afraid of his father to being able to extend a hand to his family even after they had basically disowned him (although he should have disowned them ages ago in the first place because of how horrible they were to him), he became so much stronger. Out of all of the characters, I think he changed the most. But only marginally more than Ronan. Ronan’s growth was different than Adam’s. As he became more adept with his dreaming, I think that he also became more happy with himself. He found the things that he loved and that came out in how he interacted with the other characters. He was still surly at times, but there were more moments where I was able to see why he fit in with the other raven boys and with Blue. Blue and Ronan were able to come to an understanding and their growing Sis/Bro-mance made me laugh a lot. They’re so similar, even though I think they’d both hate being compared to one another. I loved that both Adam and Ronan were connected to Cabeswater in unique ways.

Blue and Gansey, however, seemed kind of stuck. They didn’t change as much as I expected them to. The changes they went through were less exciting and slightly predictable. Blue was (understandably) obsessed with changing or stopping the combination of her curse and what she had seen at the church back in book one. It was too bad that her character was mostly slimmed down to that. Gansey too, was slimmed down to his obsession, although I couldn’t tell you if that was Glendower or Blue; at this point one only won over the other by a margin. There needed to be more done with them in this book because my interest in them waned. I sometimes preferred the secondary characters over them.

Even so, this book is very much about Gansey. The revelation about him in the previous book was something that seemed a little deus ex machina-ish–a way for Stiefvater to give us the lesson that your powers come from inside–and they came out in full-force in The Raven King. For someone who cares so much about his family and friends, Gansey’s actions in The Raven King read as a little selfish. It seemed out of character for him.

The writing, which I loved in the first three novels, was something that caused the ending to be more ambiguous (even though there was a clear enough ending) than I would have liked. The poetic nature of Stiefvater’s writing really made Cabeswater and Henrietta seem real and surreal. At the end, however, it just seemed half-worked. I wanted a little more clarity on the final events of the novel. It was a little too open-ended, particularly on the things that were brushed aside after they’d been useful à la Noah.  As a result, while I’m happy with the ending of The Raven Cycle as a whole, there are things that faded away and were not addressed. It didn’t really seem like this was an ending ending.

Overall, I would recommend this series for readers who like that blend of fantastical in a contemporary setting. I normally don’t like novels with paranormal features in them because I’ve been burned, but what Stiefvater does with The Raven Cycle is subtle and mysterious enough that it really seems like it could be happening down the street from my house. There’s no obvious, outward indications that we’re not in reality, it’s just four boys and a girl on the trail of something more. They all want so much, but sometimes what they want isn’t always what they expect it to be.

4 stars.

 

[Blue Lily, Lily Blue: The Raven Cycle III] Maggie Stiefvater

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What I really enjoyed about Blue Lily, Lily Blue is that it directly paralleled The Dream Thieves. Where Ronan was sleeping and dreaming up fantastical things to bring back into waking reality in The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue has a focus on not waking the sleepers. Blue is a little bit worried that her mother hasn’t resurfaced since she disappeared. Her disappearance has Blue distracted as she and the raven boys continue to search for Glendower. As they hurtle toward the end of their quest, they discover that there are things underground that they don’t want to wake. To do so could have dire consequences.

Things get a little bit darker in this book as it’s leading directly into the finale. Blue Lily, Lily Blue works really hard at setting up events that will continue in the next book, and it succeeded at keeping my interest. Perhaps rather obviously, there’s a slightly heavier focus on Blue and her side-quest to find her mother, who as we know disappeared at the end of The Dream Thieves. It’s been months, and Blue wrestles with her feelings of betrayal and worry over her mother’s decision to vanish over her growing feelings for Gansey as they continue to search for Glendower. (Can I just pause here for a moment to say that Stiefvater is driving me insane with how she teases her readers about an eventual–I’m assuming–Gansey/Blue relationship/kiss? It’s written so well). There’s always been consequences that are revealed after the fact in The Raven Cycle, such as the death of Ronan’s father over his dream creations or how scrying can be dangerous, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue has consequences listed upfront to avoid. Bad things did happen in The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily definitely continued that trend.

Something I really enjoyed about Blue Lily, Lily Blue is that all of the adventurers are revealed to have abilities. We already knew that Ronan could dream, Adam could connect with Cabeswater, and Blue was an amplifier, but Gansey had always seemed left out. To have an ability of a sort revealed to them made him fit in more. It also pushed a lot of the pieces together. I feel like I really have a good grasp on who Gansey is and why he is on a quest to find Glendower now. These abilities only drive the group together more and further cements their friendships with each other. As a result, I love them even more. Obviously I’ve loved (and will love) many characters that authors have created. I don’t think that there’s ever been a set of characters that I love (almost) equally. I’m glad that there are little between novellas that I can read once I’m done with the complete books.

There’s not much else I can say about Blue Lily, Lily Blue that doesn’t reveal too much or only reiterates what I’ve already said in the reviews for the first two books. I do still think that The Raven Cycle books read as one larger novel, so it’s really nice that I’m able to read all of them in a row without stopping.

5 stars.

[The Dream Thieves: The Raven Cycle II] Maggie Stiefvater

So I’ll be honest. I read the rest of the series after The Raven Boys in about a week. It’s that good and addictive.

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The Dream Thieves picks up where The Raven Boys left off, with a focus on Ronan. After revealing that he can take things out of his dreams in the last book, the others are a little in awe of Ronan’s abilities. Ronan begins to take more fantastic things out of his dreams, things that don’t exist in the real world until he wills it. When things from his nightmares start showing up, he realizes that he needs to gain control over his abilities before something worse moves from his nightmares to reality. As Gansey and the others continue to use the ley lines to search for Glendower, others are searching for dream things, leading them to Henrietta and the boys. The search for Glendower has never been more dangerous.

Like the first book, the narration is divided between the raven boys, Blue, and a few others. Even so, this book is very much about Ronan. I really enjoyed that there was a focus on his secrets and how he came to terms with them by the end of The Dream Thieves. Ronan was my least favorite of the characters after reading the first book, but by the end of this one I found that I really liked him. He’s possibly even my favorite character now. Like all of Stiefvater’s characters, he was slowly and realistically developed. She has an incredible talent at showing who her characters are, including their motivations and desires–even the ones they hide from themselves. And the ones they hide from themselves are the more interesting ones. They’ll make for some good interactions when they finally come out.

What’s interesting about the first two books of The Raven Cycle is that there’s romance, but it is absolutely not the focus. I thought there’d be more in this one since it’s a second book, but not so. It is an ultimate slow-burn romance. Stiefvater gives her characters and readers a little taste, but not enough to distract from the quest. Again, there’s more of a focus on friendship and family relationships. I really enjoy this part of Stiefvater’s character writing. These are the relationships that are around you before romance comes into the picture. I love that we can really see how the friendship between Blue and the raven boys is developing in an in-depth way.

Another character who had a little more growth in The Dream Thieves was Adam. After the events of The Raven Boys, the others don’t quite know how to interact with him. Adam himself doesn’t really know how to interact with them. Things have changed and no one knows what to do about it. Adam discovering his own talents parallel to Ronan discovering his was a nice touch and set them up to mirror each other a bit. They both have abilities that stem from their relationship to the magical side of Henrietta and their role as caretakers of a sort.

Although this is a part of the larger narration of finding Glendower, I felt like this one almost had stand-alone qualities, or at least a side-quest feel.There seemed to be so little of the Glendower quest in this one, which meant that it was basically a character building book. Of course, Ronan and the others’ lives are woven into Glendower’s and Cabeswater, so it’s never really apart from them.

Again, The Dream Thieves ends on a cliff-hanger which drives the reader toward the next book. I’m so glad that I didn’t pick these up as they were being published because I would have died a little if I’d had to wait long between the second and third books (and the third and fourth). I highly recommend this for readers who like paranormal/fantasy young adult books set in the real world. If you like a little bit of poetry with your writing, you’ll likely like this series.

5 stars.

[Iron Cast] Destiny Soria

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As one of my friends tells me that I “always write negative reviews,” (which is only sometimes, by the way) I’m very happy to inform him, and anyone looking for a review to read, that I loved this book. It’s not often that I want to replace an ebook copy with a physical one (because I don’t need two copies), but that is the case for this one.

Iron Cast is set in 1919, when the United States is just on the cusp of passing prohibition. As it is, hemopathy, the ability to create illusions through art, music, or words, is already banned. Hemopaths are being snatched from the streets and thrown in an institution for their “protection”–or worse. Naturally, underground clubs are thriving. Ada and Corinne are two such hemopaths, friends for so long that one struggles to exist without the other. They’ve trained their gifts for so long that they can react unconsciously to cues that the other gives. When their patron disappears, Ada and Corinne realize how precarious their situation in Boston is. They decide that the only thing they can do is to solve the mystery themselves in order to save the Cast Iron, the only place they’ve truly felt at home.

This is a great historical fiction novel. Every place that Destiny Soria takes the reader is vividly described, from the Cast Iron, to Corinne’s family home, to the institution. I have absolutely no complaints about it. The setting really sets the tone for the events of the novel. There are the glittering places where the rich go and the less-rich perform and they’re side-by-side with the grittier sides of the city. I was really able to visualize what was going on at all times in the novel. I liked when the characters had to go from the speakeasy-esque clubs and gangster inhabited world to that of high society for wedding preparations. I really appreciated the detail that Soria went into in order to really develop this world. Settings can sometimes make or break a book, and it one hundred percent made this novel for me. It made the tense moments of the novel even more so because I really felt like I was in Boston during this time. Iron Cast was also an alternative history novel, so it was cool to see the familiar things but also have a fantasy aspect to the world.

The setting was supplemented by amazing characters. Of course, Ada and Corinne, our two protagonists, are the most developed, but Soria didn’t let the supporting characters fall by the wayside. The character building was wonderful. Ada and Corinne come from completely different backgrounds. Ada grew up with a Portuguese father and a mother from Mozambique. She’s been treated badly by outsiders for most of her life because of her skin color, and initially she thought that Corinne–a girl from a wealthy family–was going to be the same. That changed when they both realized that they could be each other’s support in a a world that doesn’t accept their differences. Both are hemopaths, an affliction that isn’t understood but is feared by many. When they work together they can make people believe just about anything.

Ada and Corinne have probably the strongest friendship I have ever seen between two girls in young adult literature. Too often friendships between girls in young adult literature becomes catty and fractures over something stupid, or are presented as ways to slut-shame girls compared to the protagonist. Not so with Iron Cast. These girls loved each other. They were loyal to each other. They were sisters united against the hardships of their world, defending and protecting each other when the other couldn’t protect themselves. Their relationship was so believable that moments between them brought me to tears.

The other characters like Gabriel, Saint, Corinne’s brother, and the mob bosses of the clubs were very well-rounded. They didn’t exist solely to move the plot along and then to vanish when they were no longer useful. They had their own motives and desires that were expressed, and they didn’t always line up with our protagonists’. I particularly loved the portrayal of family in the novel. Both girls were concerned about how their actions affected their families and tried to keep them from harm. The misunderstandings between them were relateable; so too, was the acceptance of them when they made mistakes.

I couldn’t stop reading this book, either. The plot was engaging and was always building toward something, even during the quieter moments. Oftentimes things occurred that I wasn’t prepared for, which is a rare thing for me regarding young adult literature. Things are sometimes done so heavy-handedly that the surprise is completely gone when it comes down to the event. That was not the case with Iron Cast, and it was so nice. It allowed me to truly be immersed in the story.

Another thing that kept me in the story was the lack of a focus on the romance. There was romance, but the book didn’t suddenly become only about the romantic interests the way that some novels sometimes do. It was just a part of the overall novel and it was done beautifully. It allowed me to be invested even more in the characters and the plot when there was unrequited feelings coming into play. Because the romance was not the focus of the novel, the romantic moments were far more sweet and achingly lovely.

I absolutely loved Iron Cast and am going to recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction with a little bit of fantasy, romance, and intrigue. It has great characters and a detailed setting. I emotionally connected to the characters and had a hard time reading certain parts. It’s not often that books make me cry, but when they do I know that I really like them.  I’m really looking forward to what Destiny Soria comes up with next, because she’s now on my favorite authors list.

5 stars.

I received a copy of Iron Cast from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Iron Cast will be available on October 11th, 2016.

 

 

 

[The Serpent King] Jeff Zentner

22752127I knew within the first few chapters of The Serpent King that I was going to love it. The Serpent King is a novel about three teenagers living in Southern Tennessee who long to escape. Lydia, her college aspirations riding on her quirky (for the South) fashion blog; Dill, the boy who longs to escape the notoriety of his name in a small town; and Travis, the boy who always has his nose in a book to escape the hardships at home. The stress of their own problems on top of the stress of upcoming college brings them together and drives them apart in equal measure. The Serpent King brought me back to those moments when you’re preparing for what’s next in your life during your final year of high school, as you’re eager to escape but also terrified about what it means for the people you’re with now.

Oddly enough, when I first heard about The Serpent King, I didn’t think it was for me. Even with the hype, I didn’t think that I’d like it because of the religious tones. When I received a copy of it in my very first OwlCrate box, it was with equal amounts excitement (Oo, new book! It smells so good!) and trepidation (Ehh, I’ve heard about this, haven’t I? Shoot, is this the one that I didn’t request on NetGalley because of reasons?). I am very happy to admit how wrong I was. The Serpent King pulled me in so quickly that my plan of reading things on my TBR list in order was shot. Everything about the story was what I really want young adult books to be. The setting was extremely vivid. I’m not from the South and I don’t have much experience with it, but Jeff Zenter painted a wonderful picture with his words. It was easy to see the places that the three visited during their last moments in high school.

The writing was superb. Between the setting and the characters, I felt that everything was well rounded and full of depth. I enjoyed each of the characters and the chapters that were written in their point of views; I never had a moment where I was disappointed that there was a switch to a different point of view. I felt that each of the characters were unique in their own way. Some of the situations they went through reminded me of how difficult it is to grow up and how you can feel stuck in high school when you’re ready to move on to the next thing, whether that’s staying in town and working or moving to college.

As with a lot of books there were things that were predictable but not necessarily in a bad way. I was still able to emotionally connect with the story and characters. I ended up reading it in the span of a couple of days because I just could not put it down. The coming of age story within the pages was done really well. It was crafted in a way that foreshadowed future actions but also kept the reader in the present time of the story.  There were lots of great lines that I really liked.  I’m excited to see what Jeff Zentner comes up with next. I hope the next books he writes have a great setting like this one did.

5 stars.