The Raven Cycle Book 2 – too good to write a coherent review about it

This is one of those books that is so good I have a hard time even writing a review for it. So instead, I’ll just gush. I love Ronan. LOVE HIM. I like how dark he is, how his mind works, how he can be enthralled with something and terrified of it at the same time. How he is fearsomely protective of those he loves and yet without fear or care when it comes to his own wellbeing. I love his rebellion and his snark and the way he deals with these terrible discoveries he makes about himself, his family, and his friends. I love his secrets and the way he keeps them. Then he comes face-to-face with his father’s killer, and I just wanted to reach through the pages and choke the life out of that murderous bastard for the pain and suffering he caused poor Ronan. And that hint at the end about a potential love interest for Ronan? Did not see that coming! How did I miss that? But it’s perfect for him. It fits him. I can’t wait to see this explored in the next two books (and sorry if I am being cryptic but I don’t want to give anything away. The Raven Cycle books are so good, you really need to go into them and experience them all for yourself).

Adam, oh damn, how he scared me in this book. I kept waiting for something terrible to happen to him. He was losing himself in this book. We saw much less of his point of view in this second Cycle installment, which I believe was Stiefvater’s way of showing how lost Adam was, how he is losing himself, losing time, and being pulled apart by the Cabeswater without understanding how or why. He is a volcano of anger, frustration, jealousy, and despair, but he finds a way to not only not explode, but to figure out what he is meant to do. To act in order to save his friends. I want to know if he will always be tied to the Cabeswater and, if so, what does that mean for his future?

Why hasn’t Blue told Gansey yet??? Why, why, why, why, why? What is she waiting for and how much longer does he have? How much time has passed since Blue saw him on the corpse road? Dammit, girl, he is running out of time, so just tell him already and everyone can get to work on how to prevent this from happening. Stop stalling and start yammering! Despite my anger at her for not telling him, my heart kinda broke for her as well. Just imagine not being able to kiss the boy you love because of a prophecy that foretells you bringing about his death. Then imagine that boy is Gansey. Then bang your head against the wall repeatedly because, really, what the hell else is there to do at that point?

And what’s with the very vague publication date for Book 3? 2014? Yeah, that’s 365 potential release dates right there. Let’s whittle that down to one. One definite date that can be pushed forward but not back. I don’t like waiting, and when it comes to waiting for a book I desperately want to read, I downright suck at waiting, so at least give me a firm date so that I know just how long I am going to be in misery before Blue and The Raven Boys will be a part of my life again. I think January sounds nice. Yeah, January is a lovely time to release a new book. Just picture it: snow on the ground, sitting in a comfy chair by a lovely fireplace somewhere, cup of hot cocoa in one hand, The Raven Cycle #3 in the other hand. Sounds good, right? Right, Maggie? A slightly belated holiday gift for your readers? A perfect way to ring in the New Year??? Seriously, who doesn’t wanna ring in the New Year with three hot guys, one crush-worthy ghost, and a non-clairvoyant psychic? Answer: nobody!

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Reality Boy – I’ve never been so thankful to have had a “normal” childhood

Reality Boy by A.S. King, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 2013

Gerald Faust has a great voice. It’s refreshingly honest, devoid of hope, angry, exasperated, and desperate all at once. Which is what one might expect coming from someone who grew up in a family as dysfunctional and screwed up as the Fausts were. At the tender age of five, Mrs. Faust applies for her family to be featured on a new nanny reality show, thus bringing a camera crew, a fake nanny, and lot of unwanted attention to young Gerald, who expresses his anger and frustration by crapping in very inappropriate places, all caught on camera and aired on television for public consumption. He’s dubbed The Crapper and the moniker sticks no matter how many years have passed since the show aired. All of this has left Gerald angry, friendless, alone, frustrated, and at times violent.

As the story progresses, dark family secrets are revealed and Gerald makes shocking, life-altering realizations about his past and his family. A.S. King has crafted a great novel about self discovery, coming to terms with the past, and learning to live a future free of the bonds of a broken, dysfunctional home.

I have not read about a family this screwed up since Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors or Tawni O’Dell’s Back Roads. This family didn’t need a nanny reality show. They needed several straitjackets, high doses of anti-psychotic meds, and quite possibly some jail time. It’s emotional, gut wrenching, and mind boggling. It’s also a very worthwhile read.

Going Long by Ginger Scott returns a punt all the way to end zone for a touchdown

When I heard there was going to be a sequel to Waiting on the Sidelines, I was a little concerned. I wasn’t sure how much more Reed could screw up without losing the empathy of readers and the love of his life. Fortunately, Reed makes almost all the right moves in this book. Going Long is Nolan’s turn to make a lot of huge mistakes, learn from them, and try to get her life back on course.

Sidelines followed Nolan and Reed’s relationship from their freshman year of high school to their first semester of college. Going Long picks up in college with Nolan pursuing her special education degree and Reed struggling with the decision to stay in school or make himself eligible for the NFL draft. Complicating the relationship is the long distance separation, Nolan’s persistent insecurities, a potential new love interest, and a secret that builds and builds until all the lies and the distance implode and leave Nolan and Reed torn apart with no clear path of how to bridge the gap between them and find each other once again.

This is one of the rare sequels that I liked even more than the original (which I thoroughly enjoyed). I loved that we got to see things from Reed’s point of view. He has grown from the immature boy of Sidelines to a real man who makes mistakes and owns them, fumbles but recovers and keeps at it until he achieves what really matters. This Reed is a man worthy of the woman Nolan became at the end of Waiting on the Sidelines. I like that these characters feel like real people to me, even the supporting cast. I can see Buck in so many people I know. And I’ve known a few Millies in my life (I liked them about as much as Nolan did) and Sarah and Sienna are the friends we have who stick by us no matter what and call us out on our BS when needed. The believability of these characters makes them relatable and familiar.

Scott’s novel is a story about relationships and how, to summarize what Buck says, they knock you on your ass but the people you love make getting knocked on your ass worth it. Going Long is worth it too.

On Two Fronts is an interesting perspective on deployment (not for dog lovers, though)

On Two Fronts by Adam Fenner and Lance Taubold, 13 Thirty Books, September 2013

I read the blurb for this and thought, that is the most unique book idea I have stumbled across in a long time. A soldier on the front lines in Afghanistan and his best friend back home both writing about their individual experiences during his deployment. Adam is a soldier who actually enjoys being deployed, seems completely able to detach himself from friends, family, and home, and approaches war like it’s no big deal. Lance is the emotional, scared best friend left at home wondering if Adam is safe, what he is doing, and if he will come home.

The two writers have such different personalities. It was interesting to see steady, at-times-indifferent Adam juxtaposed against a very emotional, open Lance. For the most part, I enjoyed Adam’s account of war in Afghanistan. It is similar to other accounts I have read of what the war is really like over there. Adam is a very good writer, lots of details and descriptions that paint a picture of the base he is stationed at and the villages he patrols through. I also liked Lance’s side of things. He remains behind in Vegas and his words convey his anxiety over Adam’s safety, his relief at the sporadic emails he receives, reassuring him that Adam is alive if not always okay. The book is a study in human relationships and how war and separation change them.

And now for the but….

But if you are an animal lover and if senseless violence against animals offends you, you may not like this book.

Afghanistan has a lot of feral dogs. I know this from having read many soldiers’ books about befriending, adopting, and sometimes bringing these dogs back to the U.S. after the deployment ends. Unlike American strays, not too many people care about these dogs and many are left to fend for themselves and become very wild. I understand that they can be dangerous to soldiers and can carry diseases and that sometimes they need to be euthanized to protect people. What I don’t understand is a two-sentence account of an American soldier intentionally killing a dog that the soldiers had seemed to adopt and care for. From Adam’s very brief description, it seems like the soldier killed the dog for his own entertainment. I don’t need to launch into an explanation of how sick and wrong that is. And this incident of dog killing isn’t the only one. Adam himself tries to “euthanize” a feral dog and only manages to give it a painful bullet wound instead of killing it. These animals have terrible lives and barely manage to survive. They don’t need American soldiers killing them for sport or doing piss-poor jobs of putting them out of their misery. These incidents really pissed me off. They aren’t even a large portion of the book, but I am an animal rights advocate, so I can’t just dismiss these incidents as a part of war. I understand that is it is necessary sometimes to kill an animal for protection, but, dammit, do it correctly, quickly, and for the right reasons.

So, if you can stomach shooting dogs, this is an interesting glimpse into the lives of soldiers and the friends and family they leave behind when they are deployed.

A memoir of Auschwitz aimed at young readers but should be read by all

Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri – Tanglewood Publishing, 2011

Eva Mozes was ten years old when she and her family, including her identical twin Miriam, were taken by Nazis and put in a concentration camp. Eva and Miriam were saved solely because they were twins and, therefore, valuable to Dr. Mengele, the Nazi Angel of Death, who would perform medical experiments on them along with many other sets of twins held at Auschwitz. Both Eva and her sister suffered terribly from the injections they received at the hands of the Nazi doctors. Already starving, they were left sick and suffering with no medicine for cures. The girls survived on Eva’s will power and sheer pluck.

Surviving the Angel of Death is a detailed and tragic account of the atrocities Jewish people suffered under the sick and inhumane orders of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party. It is important for young people to learn of the torture, suffering, and loss that Jews and others were forced to endure with the rise of the Nazi political party and Hitler’s mission to exterminate those he deemed unworthy of the “master race.” This book is a great source for bringing the past to children of the present. Eva Mozes Kor does an excellent job of explaining terms in a way that makes the meanings clear for young readers. Told from her point of view, she takes the readers along with her on her terrible journey and educates them along the way about war, hate, the struggle to survive, and the healing power of forgiveness. She says, “Anger and hate are seeds that germinate war. Forgiveness is a seed of peace. It is the ultimate act of self-healing.”

This book is highly recommended for young readers.

Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle books can’t cycle through my hands fast enough!

I came across The Raven Boys many times and in many places: local libraries, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and amazon.com, which did everything in its power to add the book to my shopping cart, but I resisted because….I have a confession to make…..I judged a book by its cover. 

I know, I know. It’s one of the biggest sins a book fanatic can make, but hear me out. I took one look at that huge raven on the cover and thought, “Oh great, another book that somehow connects to, resurrects, or explains the life of Edgar Allan Poe. No thanks!” I could not have been more wrong, but in my defense, this is Baltimore, Maryland where Poe once lived, where Poe is buried, and where Poe fans from all over the world flock to see his one-time home and his permanent resting place. I mean, we have the only professional sports team actually named in honor of a literary work. I myself have volunteered at countless Poe events and, frankly, have grown just a tad tired of Mr. Poe and all his ravens, so using what, at the time, I thought my was better judgment, I avoided the book.

But sometimes fate intervenes. I was walking the aisles of my local library, trolling for books as I often do when there it was again, that damn raven. Fine, I thought, I’ll pick it up and as soon as I read Poe or The Raven in the blurb, it is going right back on the shelf.

Well, readers, I am sure you reached the same conclusion I did: I’m an idiot! Not only is this book not about Poe, it doesn’t even mention him and, more importantly, it is a fast, fresh read, and I loved it. In the end, I was absolutely kicking myself for not reading this book sooner, all because of some stupid, misleading aversion to ravens, which I naturally blame on old Eddie Poe and the City of Baltimore!

Stiefvater’s book revolves around Blue, a non-psychic living in a family of clairvoyants, Gansey, an elite teen obsessed with finding the resting place of Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr, Ronan, an angry teen reeling from his father’s murder, Adam, a guy who lives in a trailer park but works his way through the most expensive, elite prep school he can find, and Noah, the quiet friend who rarely says a word. Together, the five search for a way to awaken the ley lines and find the sleeping Glyndwr in the hopes of earning fame and the favor that legend holds Glyndwr will grant to the one who awakens him.

As soon as I read the name Owain Glyndwr, I was hooked. If I could be anywhere in the world, it would be at a castle ruin in Wales. I love that nation. I love its people, its history, its culture. I have visited many places that Owain Glyndwr was said to have fought at or passed through, so knowing that he was the sleeping king Gansey hoped to find made my fingers turn those pages at a speed-reading pace, but it isn’t just references to Wales that made this book such a good read. I loved Stiefvater’s characters and the style in which she revealed information about their pasts and what had shaped them into the individuals they were. It was like slowly being let in on big secrets as I read. She didn’t dwell on big reveals, but moved on quickly to the next clue in the search or the next problem that would arise. I also liked how the last line of the book produced an out loud “Wait. WHAT?” from me. I’m not sure you can imagine my relief that book two had already been released and was a mere “click” away thanks to Amazon!

The Raven Boys was my first Stiefvater read, but I am remedying that with The Dream Thieves and will be picking up The Scorpio Races ASAP. The Raven Boys is an excellent read even if you don’t love Wales but do love Poe. Either way, grab a copy and fall in love with Blue and the boys of Aglionby Academy.

Waiting on the Sidelines: a true coming of age story

Ginger Scott has done a great job creating a real coming of age story with Waiting on the Sidelines, which follows Nolan from her freshman year of high school to her first semester of college. I liked that the book spanned more than four years and allowed readers to really get to know Nolan and see her change from an insecure girl to a confident young woman.

Scott perfectly captures what it is like to be a teenage girl trying to find herself: the awkwardness of a girl with a crush, the self-doubt and hurt that comes with bullying, the uncertainty of figuring out who you are, the emotions of a girl’s first kiss, falling in love for the first time, and experiencing the pain of heartbreak, and then trying to heal it.

Growing up is a learning experience and as I read, I felt like I was growing up right alongside Nolan, experiencing her victories, her failures, her mistakes, her pain. Like any girl, she has her moments of strength and weakness, her good decisions and bad ones. She tries and fumbles, catches herself, and tries again. Through it all, she slowly discovers herself. Learns her passions, faces her fears, and figures out the direction she wants her life to go in. Her relationships are a roller coaster of highs and lows, love and pain. Like any teenage girl, she is figuring out who and what she wants. She learns when to hold on and when to let go. And while I didn’t always agree with the choices she made, (how many times can she forgive Reed for hurting her and still love him?) I liked that she was a strong character.

I also really liked the supporting characters. We all had that one classmate who wanted every guy she shouldn’t have or that one guy who faked being sweet just to get in a girl’s pants, and, of course, a group of best friends we couldn’t live without. This book is a good read for young adults whom I think will be able to relate to the story and its very true-to-life characters.