[Ghost House] Alexandra Adornetto

19486754Chloe thought that the ghosts that used to haunt her were gone. She thought that she was strong enough to push them away, but in the days following her mother’s death, they come back in force. They’re harder to push away. Dealing with her mother’s death, the ghosts, and her father’s grief, Chloe doesn’t know how much longer she can keep it together. Whisked away to England by a worried grandmother, Chloe’s abilities draw her into a 157 year old mystery and the ghosts that have the answers.

I was super intrigued by the premise of Ghost House. It promised that there would be “hungry dead  [eager for] a chance to claim her for their own, ” and that there was a mystery at its heart. Chloe can see ghosts and is able to ignore them most of the time, but then she suddenly can’t push them away. She’s drawn into this world that exists alongside her own. Chloe struggles to figure out her place in both of the worlds because she’s torn between them. Due to the poor execution, I didn’t feel that this was the result of the book at all. This was very much a novel where the summary and publication team works really hard to make this seem readable. For most of my time reading it, I kept looking for that zest that made it as exciting as the summary sounded. It wasn’t there.

This novel was plotted very simply. While it was described as a mystery, I felt that everything was explained to us. There were no moments where I was guessing what would come next because it was obvious what was going to happen. We’re constantly told the facts of the mystery instead of being shown it. As a result, the novel comes off as poorly written. The simplicity of the plot was nothing compared to the poor writing. At least, poor for the level of a “best selling author.” There were so many odd ways to describe the setting and the characters, that I lost track of them (“butter smooth shoulders,” anyone? So odd). It really made me feel like a high schooler wrote this. That isn’t to say that young people can’t write, and write well (because I’ve read some), but Adornetto seemed to have missed the memo that you can go into the territory of too much. And oftentimes, the very same description was repeated incessantly:

It was cool in a comforting way, like when you scalded your hand and ran it under water.

He really cooled her down with a touch. A lot. Ultimately, I expect more from someone who is a best seller, but I should learn to be disappointed.

I think the mark of a good writer is the ability for them to show their readers things that are real. I really hate being told, because it reeks of an agenda. From the moment Alexander was introduced, we were told an innumerable amount of times how stunningly gorgeous he was. As a result, it didn’t feel real at all. I wasn’t given a choice to decide which of her two love interests I liked better. The author decided that Alex was the one that Chloe would want. It wasn’t subtle at all. It wasn’t gradual. It was instant. Because of that, I really was rooting for Joe the entire time. I felt that he was a little more rounded (although he also had the instant-love sickness). He was really sweet to Chloe, even when she treated him like garbage–to the point where I didn’t understand why he was still interested in her. I think that the romance between Alex and Chloe was meant to be a little bit of a star-crossed lovers thing–because Alex is a ghost, after all–but that was not successful for me at all.

My biggest disappointment with Ghost House is the ending. This easily could have been a standalone novel and it would have been a good way at looking how grief doesn’t stop existing. You just learn how to cope with it and keep moving because the one who left would want you to. Instead, we were given a cliffhanger. One that makes no sense at all, although I’m sure there will be some way to explain it in the next novel. The ending was solely to force a series, and that made me mad. Especially when the writing should have been better. I don’t feel that the story and writing is enough to make this a series.

The problem with finishing books on a cliffhanger is that it leaves things unresolved for your readers, characters, and story. They’re very effective, but cruel, particularly when news of a second book has only recently surfaced. My personal opinion is that if you want to write a series–and leave end them with cliff-hangers–know where you’re taking it next. Have it ready. If you can’t handle the pressure of that, then write a standalone and make it the best thing you’ve written at that moment in time.

I feel like Ghost House was more childish than her other series. At least what I remember of them.  I remember them being enjoyable, even if they did have their own agendas. This one felt very much like it was the debut novel of a teenager, which is partially the case, but since it’s the fourth young adult book that she wrote, I was expecting more. I expected the writing to advance. Instead I got writing that was littered with clichés, odd similes and metaphors, and repetitive descriptions. Yet I feel that I know very little about the characters and the world. It was very fill-in-the-blank-y for me as a reader. I really felt like the author didn’t love what she was writing and so that translated into my experience as a reader. There was no passion.

2 stars.

[The Delphi Effect] Rysa Walker

30439157

Anna is a normal girl with an unusual and sometimes debilitating talent. She picks up the ghosts of people who have something they want to do before they move on. When they move on, they leave her with their knowledge, so she’d probably be the best person to have on your trivia team. Sometimes it’s simple, like a goodbye or an apology to a brother; other times it’s a little more time consuming, like that time her ghost hitchhiker wanted her to finish a crossword puzzle; other times it’s downright dangerous. Until Molly, Anna’s life had been living moment to moment: going to her job, her therapist, and dealing with the occasional friendly, but annoying, ghost. When she picks up Molly at the shelter, Molly wants justice for her murder–and she won’t leave until she has it. Thrown headlong into a nearly cold investigation, Anna realizes that it’s much more complicated than a murder. And the people who committed it will do anything to get her once they learn what she can do.

The Delphi Effect was one of those books that I wasn’t sure I would like. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a little leery of paranormal / ghost young adult novels, so I tried to hold that feeling back until I got further into the book. At first it was a little slow because Rysa Walker needed to build the world, but at some point without even realizing it, I was further along in the book and couldn’t put it down. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was that the author did. I’m not sure if it was the slow way that the plot built or the depth of the characters, but the blend made for an entertaining novel.

This novel has several plot elements that were blended together seamlessly. There’s a murder-mystery, the threat of a government entity, and ghosts. I didn’t think that it would work as successfully as it did. I was really impressed with the world-building that occurred while the plot moved along. One wasn’t slowed for the other. I felt that it was genuinely unique; just futuristic enough without being too much or too scientific.

The characters were great. Although The Delphi Effect focused on Anna, the supporting characters were just as well thought out. Each character’s personality was revealed slowly through their actions and words, rather than too much of Anna’s own take on them. I allowed for the reader to see what they were like at the same time as Anna, rather than having her judge them too heavily one way or the other. Even the ghosts–characters who we never see and who can only talk through Anna–were richly described. They each had their own personality that you could see as they tried to impose as little as possible on Anna’s headspace. It’s a little hard for privacy when you’re sharing your mind with multiple ghosts.

I really enjoyed reading about her gifts and about the gifts other people had. I’m very excited to continue reading about them in the rest of the series. I’m glad this book is a series. Nothing was too watered down for the sake of stretching out the content, which is a complaint I’ve had before of series. I’m really curious how the events of this novel will expand in the next two books! I’m definitely going to continue the series, and I may check out more of Rysa Walker’s work in the meantime.

4 stars.

I received a copy of The Delphi Effect from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Delphi Effect will be released on October 11th, 2016.

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

17378527

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.

 

[Monstress 1: Awakening] Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda

24426209

Monstress was a beautiful and deadly introduction to the world that Marjorie M. Liu created and Sana Takeda illustrated. After an apocalyptic event, lines were drawn between the Humans and the Arcanics. We follow Maika Halfwolf and her companions as they try to find what exactly happened on that day and how Maika is connected to it. Maika has secrets of her own and sometimes it’s best that they remain hidden.

For the most part, I couldn’t get enough of Monstress. There were moments when the story was a bit slow because the author needed to introduce concepts or characters to the reader, but as a whole, it started immediately in the action and didn’t stop. We learn that there are the Arcanics, who look different from the humans (often appearing half animal) and who are not considered human ever since the events of the war. Treating them badly is commonplace, although not every human is like that. The Cumaea, a sort of witch-nun, are after Arcanics for their Lilium, a substance that they can harvest from Arcanics they’ve captured. They’re powerful enough that they can do what they want, and no one can stop them. This is a world that had steam-punk influences, but also maintained that it was a fantasy world where gods exist.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 9.14.54 AM

One of my absolute favorite parts of Monstress was the fact that nearly all of the characters–the protagonist, one of the companions, the villains–were female. There were men, but the story was not driven by them. I love that the protagonist, Maika, was harsh and didn’t want to step into the shoes of a heroine when others pressured her toward that direction. She remained firmly rooted in her own motivations. She wasn’t unwilling to change, however. One of my favorite things to read were her actions with Kippa and Ren, because it really showed how traveling with them was changing her from this tough, prickly person to someone who was still tough and prickly, but she was willing to extend her drive to survive to protecting them. Maika is an unlikely caretaker, but nothing is more natural than her slipping into that role for Kippa. The characters in this are also extremely diverse. Because there was an apocalyptic event in this world, it seems like everyone who survived came together and built what they could. There’s not any room for prejudices, unless you’re an Arcanic.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.06.02 AM

unnamedLiu has a knack for pacing her story out for her readers. We start in the action, so there’s a lot of things that we’re unaware of at first. The backstory of this world and of Maika’s place in it is given to us in bits and pieces. It allows for slow world-building that ultimately really pays off, particularly in the motivations of the potential villains of the series. I say potential because although we’re given their motivations, Liu has already proven in each part of Monstress that what you expect is not always what is true. By the time I finished Monstress, I was more aware of what was going on in the world but there’s still so much more going on that we haven’t been told yet. We know that some people are keeping secrets from other people. As readers, we’re lucky to be in the know. I’m really looking forward to what will happen when those secrets become common knowledge to the people it’s being kept from, because it will make for some intense moments and illustrations.

The illustrations. Oh my gosh. I would love to have prints of some of the city and wilderness scenes. It is absolutely stunning. I love that there are moments where it looks brushed on the page.  I won’t lie, when the story dragged a bit the art is what drew me through the story. Takeda was able to illustrate facial expressions perfectly that even when there wasn’t text I was immediately able to understand what the characters were feeling. There were so many lovely wide-shots of the world that really let me take in what it was like. It was a way to introduce readers to the world without words, and it worked perfectly when there were large, detailed panels. I’m so glad that it’s in full color, because Takeda is incredibly talented. I would definitely buy an artbook for this series.

I love how it's cluttered but also open. Really shows the setting.

I love how it’s cluttered but also open. Really shows the setting.

The one thing that may deter readers is the violence. I didn’t find that it was excessive or anything like that, but it was there. I felt that it was necessary to the story. This isn’t a kind, post-war setting. Things that happened during the war have decided what the world will be like, such as who will be in power and who will not. I wasn’t too grossed out by any of it, as it was mostly blood or stylized in a way that didn’t make it gruesome.

I’m definitely a fan of the art and intrigued by the story that Liu presented in the first volume, so I want to check out the rest when I can. I’d definitely recommend it for readers who like fantasy with a bit of a dystopian feel.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Monstress from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 12.24.09 PM

I mean, the artist made me hungry for chocolate rats. That has to mean something for her illustration skills. (Note: I won’t actually ever eat any rats.)

 

 

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

17378508

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.

17347389

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.

[The Raven Boys: The Raven Cycle I] Maggie Stiefvater

17675462

I really don’t know where to start with this one. The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater (an author whose last name I’ll never be able to spell without referencing goodreads) is a book that is so lyrically beautiful that I had to stop reading it late at night because I wanted to enjoy the words instead of plowing through them.

Blue Sargent is the daughter of a psychic–in fact, most of her family have some sort of psychic ability, except Blue. She’s come to terms with that fact, just as she’s come to terms with the fact that there are some things she can’t escape: namely, that her kiss is going to kill her true love. Her mother foretold it, her aunts foretold it. Blue decided when she was much younger that she’d never kiss any boy. This year, staying away from boys proves to be difficult when she gets wrapped up in the quest of four of the Raven Boys, normally well-off students from the local private school. As Blue gets to know them, she realizes that each of the Raven Boys have something that they can’t get away from. And there’s the possibility that their quest may be more dangerous than the five of them expect.

The Raven Boys is a great start to a series. With a focus on how the paranormal relates to the real world, I was impressed with the balance that the author had created. It doesn’t focus to heavily on one over the other, which gave the plot realness even as it dealt with mystical elements. The mystery gradually builds as the story progresses, but I never found it boring or too fast paced. Things have their beginning in The Raven Boys, but they were not concluded. There’s going to be threads that run through the series which I found really nice. It makes me want to continue the series when not everything has been answered. However, enough has been answered in this first book that I feel satisfied at its conclusion.

I really liked all of the characters. Each of the Raven Boys–Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah–had unique personalities and drives. I also particularly liked that they also had something that they were ashamed of OR had something that they wanted to change about themselves. Desperately. That often meant they longed for things they didn’t have. Their jealousies made them so relatable that it truly felt like they were real people. And Blue. Such a wonderful protagonist. She had a unique way of looking at the world and she managed to balance her own wishes, the Raven Boys’, and her family’s. She’s quirky, but not annoyingly so. She’s not quirky just to be a different sort of young adult protagonist in a field that is heavily populated by similar protagonists.

First and foremost I felt that this was a book about friendships and familial relationships rather than the romances. There was a romance angle that I imagine will become more important in later books, but right now it’s only subtle. The romances are tentative and not pushed at the reader. It allowed all of the characters to breathe and to be. The friendship between the four boys was so lovely–full of love, trust, and familiarity that comes with being in close quarters with someone. They had their issues and had to work through them. I loved it. Blue fits easily in to this group and through their interactions with her we’re given more glimpses into who they are. As for Blue’s family, they’re great. I found it impossible not to draw parallels between Blue’s family and the Halliwell sisters from Charmed. They just care for each other so much but also know when to give each other space. I liked that they were present in the story and that they were concerned with what Blue was doing, but they were also willing to allow her to make her own mistakes and choices.  Stiefvater has a talent at building characters who are extremely realistic and who have their own good and bad traits. I wouldn’t be surprised if I ran into them in Virginia. That’s how real they seemed.

The writing style was so lyrical and mysterious. It really helped build up the setting. It wasn’t overdone or drawn out; somehow it managed to maintain a realness even when the writing was a bit whimsical. I’ve talked a lot about balance in this review, and this is yet another thing that I found incredibly well-done and balanced. A lot of times when I enjoy a book, I stay up late to finish it. I found while reading this that I did have that sense, but I also forced myself to stop because I wanted to enjoy the prose. If I hurried through it, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to see how prettily it was written.

The only downside (but I don’t really have to worry too much since I’m late to the series!) is that The Raven Boys ends very much in the middle of the action. Of course, the main action of the novel is finished with the exception of the larger plot of the series. It’s almost like the series is a larger book broken up in four installments because of this. I would have been very annoyed if I’d read this book when it had first come out and I’d needed to wait for the next one. Luckily I can go on to the next one immediately, because I get the sense from the first book that I’ll burn through the entire series rather quickly.

I recommend this for young adult readers and for fans of young adult novels. I usually don’t particularly love paranormal novels–I tend to go for fantasy–but the wonderful prose, plot, and the very strong characters in this book won me over almost immediately.

5 stars.