The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater

raven boys cover

“Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.”

Blue is an oddity in her family: a non-psychic amongst clairvoyants. She is surprised, then, to finally see a spirit – a future-ghost, a forewarning of death ahead. Why now? Well, it must be either because he’s her true love – or she’s the one who’ll kill him.

The shade belongs to Gansey, a pupil at the local private school, heir to a vast fortune, and utterly obsessed with finding a mythical king buried on a local leyline and able to grant wishes. And while Gansey may or may not need one of those wishes, one or more of his closest friends might: troubled Ronan, close to being expelled; scholarship student Adam, desperate to escape his abusive father; or sickly Noah, always lurking in the shadows.

When Blue crosses paths with these ‘Raven boys’ (so-called because of the school emblem), her already strange life gets weirder than she could possibly have imagined.

I think one of the reasons I was so wowed by this book was that I hadn’t even really meant to read it – YA, teen angst, forbidden romance? No thanks! But it was selected for a group challenge, the library had an e-copy, oh – why not? And thus, when it turned out to be very well written, full of twists and magic and so many mysteries added in increasing layers – wow indeed!

The only real downside is that this is very much an opener for the four-book series, so there’s a limited number of answers to the many, many puzzles set up along the way. Hand me book 2 immediately!

Kindle: 468 pages / 48 chapters
First published: 2012
Series: The Raven Cycle book 1 of 4
Read from 7th-15th November 2017

My rating: 9/10

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Paper and Fire – Rachel Caine

Paper and Fire cover

“Every day, Jess Brightwell passed the Spartan warrior statue on his way to and from his quarters.”

I’m still utterly in love with the idea of The Great Library: the upswelling of knowledge as the driving and ruling force over the past two millennia, following the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, rather than, say, religion. The dark machinations that came to light through the course of the first book, Ink and Bone, only added to the intrigue and danger.

Alas, something in that amazing mix gets lost through the course of the novel, and very definitely by this one. Instead, we’re plunged rather too much into a series of YA tropes, from the burning love of two teenagers who’ve spent all of five minutes together, to – well, actually, that one was enough to turn me right off.

I’m hoping this is all just a case of middle book syndrome. The various perils go from decent twists to starting to feel a little repetitive for constantly being twists, and I really started to notice little picky things to get annoyed with. For example, the group being stuck together through most of this, there are more times than not where the scene focuses on just two, then suddenly reminds you that the others must all be standing around the edges like mannequins. The YA element means, too, that the teen lead characters far too often seem to outshine and/or half-ignore the few adults about, and again this just jarred a little.

I’ve already got book three lined up, with some trepidation now. I just hope we can go back to the story and more of the magnificent premise, rather than more teenage Romeo and Julietting o_O

Kindle: 368 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: The Great Library book 2
Read from 22nd October – 1st November 2017

My rating: 6/10

Ink and Bone – Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone cover

“‘Hold still and stop fighting me,’ his father said, and slapped him hard enough to leave a mark.”

Imagine a history in which the destruction of the great Library of Alexandria caused such an upheaval in the ancient world that it is knowledge, not religion, and the Library, not the church, that hold sway over humankind’s lives. In this environment, alchemy is pursued more rigorously, creating many marvels that are still used thousands of years later, and keeping the population in sway far more than any single holy book has yet managed. Still, maintaining rule is hard: the only way is ruthlessness.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a book smuggler. While any title can be read on a ‘blank’ (an e-reader, basically, powered by alchemy rather than technology – it took me a worrying long time to realise this!), possessing copies of actual books is strictly forbidden. For, if the Library isn’t the source of all knowledge, how can they curtail what thoughts people have?

I absolutely adored the premise of this book – well, books about books, and libraries are always appealing! Add in a society still heavily influenced by the Egyptian roots of the ruling organisation, and intriguing glimpses of how the development we know happened in our reality over 2000 years is either quashed or fitted in, and I’m giving high marks for the world building.

However, this is a YA (young adult) novel, and alas very quickly starts to follow a very well-worn path: hero is a bit of an outsider, cast into hostile territory and forced to undergo varying challenges highlighting the evils of the controlling system, setting up an inevitable future clash. Throw in the is he/isn’t he a baddy mentor, some diverse(ish) companions to form close bonds in times of high stress, knowing all might not survive – yup, fairly sure I’ve read this plot already!

Which is a bit of a shame, because I really did love the setting and the atmosphere created. I will continue with the series – it’s perfectly well-written – but with quite reduced expectations on the storyline, to be honest.

Kindle: 368 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2015
Series: The Great Library book 1
Read from 16th-22nd October 2017

My rating: 7.5/10 – excellent premise, rather familiar YA plot

One of Us is Lying – Karen M McManus

“A sex tape. A pregnancy scare. Two cheating scandals. And that’s just this week’s update.”

Imagine if The Breakfast Club didn’t get the chance to spend detention coming to deep and meaningful revelations about themselves, because one of them dropped dead. The brain, the jock, the princess, the criminal – all four of them were about to have some shocking secret revealed by the dead boy, Simon, the outcast and creator of a nasty little gossip app. Which means all four had really good motives for murder…

The book is told from all four points of view, with the switch between characters clearly marked with the name and a timestamp. So, as we see inside all four heads, it means one of the narrators must be lying, as they relate the events after Simon’s death, including the police interviews, sensationalist journalists hounding them, and deepening relationships as the four become the ‘murder club’, shunned by classmates who can’t believe any of them are innocent.

I really liked the idea of this story, but felt that the different voices could have been a little more disparate, and the stories told with a little more tension. There’s something just a little too cosy about the tellings of watching movies and getting haircuts, in the midst of all the drama – yes, it’s normal life going on despite everything, but it did lessen some of the potential impact for me.

The mystery unfolds well enough, but the real ‘message’ of the story is more about the secrets and lies, and the impact these have on all five lives, not to mention those around them. Go in knowing that and not just looking for a straight murder mystery, and there’s a lot to enjoy in this book.

NetGalley eARC: 358 pages / 30 subdivided chapters plus epilogue
First published: June 2017
Series: none
Read from 29th May – 4th June 2017

My rating: 7/10

Rebel of the Sands – Alwyn Hamilton

“They said the only folk who belonged in Deadshot after dark were the ones who were up to no good.”

Amani is desperate to escape. From the one-pony dustbowl of a town she lives in, from the cruel upbringing by her aunt, and from the local treatment of women as possessions. She’s got a head full of stories. She’s taught herself to shoot better than any boy. All she needs is a way out.

But when her plans go awry it leaves room for her world to be turned upside down by a foreign troublemaker – and it seems that the wider world may turn out to be nothing like the stories – and all the more wondrous for it.

There was a huge amount to recommend this book to me: the exotic middle-eastern-ish setting, where Djinn are real and mythical creatures abound, and a strong female lead. Plus, I’ve grown to like ‘YA’ as a type of story-telling, usually quicker reads shorn of waffle superfluous to the story, and often high on imagination and drama. Unfortunately, also often high on the teenage romance, which is where this book slightly fell down for me – not that there was a dose of that, but because by the midpoint, it was overshadowing the magic, imo. Amani’s journey becomes far less about strength, and more about puppy-dog eyes – and that rather irritated me. Also, although not entirely the fault of this book, I’m getting rather fed up of world building that retains women being treated rubbishly and it’s the job of the heroine to overcome hideous sexism.

However, while the second half of the book took a turn that didn’t entirely suit me, the first half was easily inhaled in a few sittings. This is very much an opening chapter, and my hopes are high for the subsequent books to fill in more of the wonders of the world that includes shapeshifters, sand horses, and all manner of creatures we might in another realm class ‘mutants’ 😉

Paperback: 358 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: Rebel of the Sands trilogy, book 1
Read from 21st-26th January 2017

My rating: 6.5/10

Glass Sword – Victoria Aveyard

“I flinch.”

I wasn’t exactly over-gushing with glowing praise for Red Queen or the prequel novellas, and yet I obviously liked them well enough that when I saw book 2 of the series on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to continue reading Mare’s adventures. Usual spoiler warning: in mentioning characters, etc in book 2, that may give away information about events in book 1. Go read that first! 🙂

I found Glass Sword rather difficult to get going with. We pick up events immediately from the end of the previous installment, and unfortunately that includes Mare somewhat wallowing in self-pity. As this is first-person perspective, that means a lot of “woe is me” waffle in the opening chapter that I found really grating. Fortunately the narrative swings back to action pretty quickly, but there are a lot of ‘inner thoughts’ drama throughout the book that remained slightly irritating at times. There’s also at least one instance of being told what’s going on inside another character’s head, which is a huge red flag for me: there’s no way Mare, our narrator, could have known such things.

Fortunately, the story itself manages to overcome most of all that. It is a rather bleak outlook, and I personally missed the little glimpses of glamour from the palace life Mare has left behind. However, she’s still very much the outsider: not silver, but not entirely red, either. The toll this takes on her psyche, especially as she goes out on increasingly dangerous Red Guard missions, does at least give the inner drama a good base!

Unfortunately, Glass Sword does the whole middle-book-ending-on-a-cliff-hanger thing – argh! As such, it doesn’t feel like a complete tale in and of itself, and I’m docking it a mark for that.

If you enjoyed the first book, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy this. But be prepared for a nail-biting wait for the third installment and some resolution!

NetGalley eARC: 448 pages / 30 chapters (including epilogue)
First published: July 2016
Series: Red Queen book 2
Read from 7th-23rd July 2016 (week off with the flu in the middle, bah!)

My rating: 6/10

Cruel Crown – Victoria Aveyard

“As usual, Julian gave her a book.”

Cruel Crown comprises two short stories, Queen Song and Steel Scars, both prequels to the novel Red Queen, which kicks off the series of the same name.

The first, Queen Song, was my favourite by far, telling the story of Coriane, the King’s first wife. This chilling little tragedy is hinted at in Red Queen, and it was quite fascinating to hear the full dark tale. It also gives more background into Elara, a key player in the main novel.

The second tale, Steel Scars, didn’t impress me as much. It’s told by Farley, as she takes her first mission command as part of the Red Guard. There are hints as to why she joined, but not really the same character exploration, I felt, as the first tale. Starting before the events in Red Queen, it covers the period up to Farley’s introduction in the main novel. It also fills in a bit of back/side story between that and the end of the novel, but still felt rather slight and uninvolving. I also really disliked the ‘memo-style’ communication – I’ve always found it hard to slow down my reading enough to pay attention to such ‘to’ and ‘from’ type things, so find them irritating.

Overall, then, I’d give the first story 6/10 and the second maybe 4. For fans of Red Queen, these are nice little additions to the background, but nothing you have to read for the main narrative.

The version I read also included a sizable chunk of preview of the next book in the series, Glass Sword.

NetGalley eARC: 208 pages / 2 stories
First published: 2016
Series: Red Queen, prequels 0.1 and 0.2
Read from 19th-22nd April 2016

My rating: 5/10 for the pair, but the first one is definitely better than the second.