The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves
Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves was one of the more coveted YA books at BEA last year, and rather difficult to get (the publisher gave out the time to grab the book only to those who specifically asked, and then handed them out so quickly they were gone in 10 minutes). I was hoping to get an extra copy for book blogger friends who only asked for this one book, but I don’t think I had any luck. Anyway, this came out September 2013, and was another pick for the YAckers. They had a lovely chat about The Dream Thieves which is up online now. Of course, being the reprobate that I am, my contribution to this chat was something along the lines of “I’m still reading it, you guys talk about it without me.” This was the right thing to say because it took me a whole month to read this book, mostly thanks to the day job sucking away my time and attention, but I do wish I could have talked about it with the gang because I have the sneaking suspicion that I am the outlier again when it comes to this series. I’ve actually refrained from looking at the chat before I finish this review because I’m afraid of how far off my opinion is going to be.

This is the second book of The Raven Cycle. If you haven’t read the first book yet, I recommend you read my review of The Raven Boys instead of this one, because possible spoilers for that book lie ahead.

The Premise: Despite the freedom of summer break, a newly awoken ley line, and Ronan’s unveiled talent, the search for Glendower is no easier than it was before. Shady characters have appeared in Henrietta, drawn by the power spikes from its ley lines. The trail runs hot and cold as energy grows and dims without explanation or clear source. Similarly, the all is discordant amongst Blue and the Raven boys. Noah disappears and reappears with each dip and surge in energy. Ronan toys with more dangerous pursuits. And a lingering tension hovers between Adam, Blue, and Gansey that threatens to fracture the whole group.

Read an excerpt of The Dream Thieves on scribd (or pdf: here)

My Thoughts: When I look back at my review of The Raven Boys, I had problems with the fragmented focus – there are a lot of characters, each with their own individual back story, and it was difficult for me to tell who the main protagonists were and where the whole story was going. Then I reminded myself that despite having trouble with the meandering storyline, I loved the characters, enjoyed the writing, and would road trip to Henrietta in a heartbeat. I said to myself that this was the cost of set up when there were multiple characters involved and a dreamy supernatural backdrop to explain. And because the framework was taken care of in The Raven Boys, it seemed a reasonable expectation that I would fare better with The Dream Thieves.

Unfortunately, I had very similar issues with The Dream Thieves that I had with The Raven Boys. I don’t know what else to do but sigh over this, but before I go into why this book didn’t set my heart aflame, I want to point out it might do just that for someone else by reiterating what I said when I reviewed The Raven Boys: “If you are one who can sit back and enjoy a character-driven story with lovely prose and you don’t need to know where it’s all going, this will do quite well.” If you are one of those readers, this story is made of words that are simple yet arranged in very pleasing ways. It has characters who you want to follow around and learn what makes them tick. And yes, there is magic.

“In the shower, Adam scratched a thumbnail across his summer-brown skin. The line of his nail went from white to angry-red in a moment, and as he studied it, it struck him that there was something off about the flow of the water across his skin. As if it was in slow-motion. He followed the stream of the water up to the showerhead and spent a full minute watching it sputter from the metal. His thoughts were a confusion of translucent drops clinging to metal and rain trembling off green leaves.

He blinked.

There was nothing odd about the water. There were no leaves.”

If that’s enough for you, you can probably skip the rest of the review and go enjoy the book. Otherwise be prepared for my kvetching because I really wrestled over what exactly didn’t work for me. This was a review more to work out my own demons than anything else.

I feel a little despondent that what this book has going for it wasn’t enough for me, but ultimately it comes down to what kind of reader I am, and like I said when I reviewed the first book, I need structure. It doesn’t have to be all business right away, and The Dream Thieves started out promisingly with a continued search for Glendower and tantalizing hints about Ronan’s ability, but as I read on my enthusiasm slowly waned. I was surprised by the introduction of a morally ambiguous “heavy” (appropriately named The Gray Man), but he seemed interesting so I read on. By mid-book, I felt like things were moving slowly, but I was still hopeful I could like this story if I could just get some answers, such as what Declan really knew and where things were going. A bit after that mid-way point I began to question. Three-quarters of the way was where I realized I wasn’t going to get that direction I was hoping for and I was officially frustrated. Of course the last few pages of the book is where the story takes off, but by then I wasn’t as engaged as I wanted to be.

Thinking back on it now, if I had approached this as a side-story that was about Ronan and not a “traditional” sequel to The Raven Boys, my expectations would have been calibrated properly. Because I thought there would be progress with the Glendower search, it didn’t compute when the search was mired and another mystic concept, the Greywaren, was thrown in as if out of no where. Things were happening, but to me it was a slow inching trek toward an unknown destination, and I was in a frustrating place where I didn’t know if what I was reading was taking me anywhere. In my mind I was in the second book of a series feeling like I actually hadn’t gone beyond the set up stage of the story.

What compounds my problems with direction and plot is that this is a multi-character story with multiple focuses. Ronan has a bigger role in this second book (which I expected, based on the title and the cover), and I was looking forward to it because he’s so enigmatic in The Raven Boys, but because every chapter was a short flash on a single character before moving onto the next, his voice was one of many. It was easy to forget that this was “Ronan’s book” when the focus moved away from him so often. While Ronan’s power to bring dreams to life is explored, two new characters (the aforementioned Gray Man, and Kavinsky – an obnoxious street-racing-fellow-student) are introduced, and Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Noah continue to have their own problems. Not to mention what all the women living at 300 Fox Way get up to. Again I was reminded the first book, where the fragmented focus made me unsure of who the main characters were. In the end, the characters that get the most page time (Ronan and The Gray Man) were the characters I was happiest with because there was enough pulling back of the veil to see their inner workings, even if I wasn’t completely satisfied with their particular story arcs (that’s a whole other thing that goes into spoiler territory though). As for almost everyone else, it was as if there were too many characters for there to be more for the reader than to touch their outside edges, let alone grasp them whole.

Where I really felt this was with Adam, Blue, and Gansey, whose interrelationships are complicated by romance, rivalry, class, and a curse. What we got of them only makes the loss greater: subtle scenes between Gansey and Blue, a raw honesty between Blue and Adam, and tests of friendship between Adam and Gansey. Despite this, I had only my own guesses to things like why Adam’s character was so alien (more angry than vulnerable) from what he once was. I can’t help but feel like I’d trade one or more of the minor characters’ space in The Dream Thieves for more Adam, or Blue, or Gansey.

I know, I know. Due to my (faulty?) wiring, even though I kept thinking of certain wonderful bits and pieces of this book long after it was finished, I was just too bothered by all of the above for The Dream Thieves to be a hit with me. I’m sure I’m in the minority in this.

Overall: My reaction is the dreaded “I wanted to like this more than I did”. While I found a lot of things to like about The Dream Thieves, for each aspect about this story that I enjoyed, there was another that really didn’t work for me. One problem was my expectations and that I was approaching this story thinking that it was a continuation of The Raven Boys rather than something that was more of a companion piece that intertwines into the greater whole. Another was that I just don’t do well with a lot of characters and an unfocused destination. Since I had similar issues with The Raven Boys and hoped I would fare better in this book, The Dream Thieves rated lower than The Raven Boys on my visceral reaction scale, but would probably rate higher if I could repress my feelings and look at this with more neutral eyes. I suspect I would like this book more the second time around now that I know what I’m getting.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Angieville – “If you’re looking for a story worth living and breathing, The Dream Thieves will take you there.”
Book Harbinger – “When somehow the Raven Cycle comes to its impossible, filled-to-the-brim-with-potential conclusion, we’re in for a treat.”
Bunbury in the Stacks – “I am unable to find all of the proper words needed to express my love of book two of The Raven Cycle”
YAckers discussion

Yup yup, everyone liked this more than I did. I will go hide now.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys was chosen as December’s YAcker read. You can check out our discussion here.

The Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater

The Premise: Every psychic Blue Sargent has ever gone to tells her the same thing: if she kisses her true love, he will die. Other people might dismiss such claims, but Blue lives in a house with her mother Maura and a group of women who are in the business of telling fortunes, and she knows how accurate their readings can be.  Blue’s fate has hung over her head for much of her life, but when her aunt Neeve joins the household, she gives Blue a timeline. This is the year that Blue is going to fall in love.

If that isn’t a grave enough portent for the year, Blue also sees the spirit of a boy during St. Mark’s Eve, when the soon-to-dead march through the grounds of an abandoned church. The boy whispers that his name is Gansey. Blue has no psychic powers of her own (she only magnifies what others see), so seeing Gansey has one of two meanings: either she is responsible for his death, or he is her true love.

In the meantime, Richard “Dick” Campbell Gansey, III (Gansey to his friends) attends the nearby Aglionby Academy. Outwardly he has the ease and confidence of the rich and privileged and he leads a gaggle of Aglionby misfits: Adam, Ronan, and Noah. But inwardly, Gansey is more than he appears. He’s a finder of lost things, and he’s searching for something in particular, something ancient and magical: Glendower, a sleeping king who will grant a boon to whomever wakes him.

Read an excerpt of The Raven Boys here (pdf)

My Thoughts: 

“I should tell you,” Maura always advised her new clients, “that this reading will be accurate, but not specific.”
  It was easier that way.
  But this was not what Blue was told. Again and again, she had her fingers spread wide, her palm examined, her cards plucked from velvet-edged decks and spread across the fuzz of a family friend’s living room carpet. Thumbs were pressed to the mystical, invisible third eye that was said to lie between everyone’s eyebrows. Runes were cast and dreams interpreted, tea leaves scrutinized and séances conducted.
  All the women came to the same conclusion, blunt and inexplicably specific. What they all agreed on, in many different clairvoyant languages, was this:
  If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die.


The Raven Boys
begins with a sense of anticipation. The first chapters follow Blue and Gansey separately, but because of fate, Blue’s curse, and St. Mark’s Eve, the reader knows these two characters are meant to cross paths. Blue sees a boy’s spirit whispering the name Gansey, and sitting on a ley line on the other side of town, Gansey picks up the very same conversation on his recorder. Obviously Blue and Gansey are part of a bigger mystery, a mystery that they can only see the edges of from different angles.

Blue was born into the strangeness in Henrietta. She is working class and lives surrounded by women who tell fortunes and are well aware of the ley lines that make her town special. Gansey couldn’t be more different. He was born into privilege and has never experienced life without the ease that money brings to it. Despite this, he leads a pack of misfit boys at Algionby academy and has an obsession with mystic phenomena and a king named Glendower. In spite of their differences, Blue and Gansey’s lives hold some parallels. Mystery swirls around them and they share their lives with people that hold secrets. While Blue lives with her mother and older women named Calla, Persephone, and Orla (in a set-up that doesn’t seem to be unlike what I imagine a coven to be like), Gansey lives in the husk of an old factory with a couple of boys that don’t fit anywhere else.  Her mother and her surrogate aunts warn Blue about kissing boys and avoid discussing Blue’s absent father. Gansey is is leader and support for his friends but there’s a line he can’t cross that keeps Noah elusive, Ronan surly, and Adam defensive.

I liked the way things were set up in this story: Blue’s world about to collide with Gansey’s. Wondering what would happen when these two finally meet had me turning the pages eagerly. Unfortunately, somewhere after the initial set up and the actual crossing of paths, something happened. I never felt fully captured by the story in the way I wanted. It took me a long time to parse out what happened there. My reaction was frustratingly in the middle-of-the-road, and I couldn’t help comparing it to my fellow YAckers who mostly loved the book. I know that reading is a personal experience, subject to mood and a myriad other factors, but while I knew what I liked, I couldn’t pinpoint what kept me from wholeheartedly loving The Raven Boys.

Cut to over a month later, some angst over separating my reading experience from the end of a stressful year, a reread of The Raven Boys, more angst, and I think I have a better idea of what my problem was. Technically, this should have been a winner: the writing is engaging and of good quality; there’s a mishmash of eccentric characters; and the main story centers on mysteries that reveal themselves in slow degrees. Individually each character had his or her own fascinating back story. But for me, some of these strengths also translated into weaknesses. Everyone had some personal albatross: Blue with her curse and her unknown father; Gansey and his obsession for which there is no explanation; Ronan’s father’s death and his subsequent broodiness; Adam with his poverty, pride, and miserable home-life. Even Noah, who is practically a non-entity at the start of the book turns out to be more than meets the eye. On top of that, the antagonist of this story has his crosses to bear. My problem was with so many complex/tragic/secret back stories, the focus felt fragmented. Blue and Gansey took the spotlight the most, but I felt like I was focusing on the other characters through them instead of focusing on them. I’m all for characters having depth, but when there’s a mystery or tragedy to everyone, it felt like too much to me.  You could argue it all links back to the phenomena surrounding Henrietta, but (for me) it created an imbalance. Every issue I had stemmed from this central one. The pacing in the first 150 to 200 pages feels meandering, and the narration hops between characters for some time before something vaguely plot-like appears. I think Gansey and Blue were the protagonists of this story, but I question if that assumption is correct. Then when the pace picks up and the story gathers focus, I felt like certain things like Blue’s acceptance into Gansey’s group didn’t get the attention I wanted. It took me longer than necessary to finish The Raven Boys because I felt adrift.

On the other hand – did I like these characters? Did I want to know what was happening to them? I did. The characters that I loved most are the ones where veil is pulled back a little more in the narration. When that happened, oohh, that’s when I adored this book. That’s why I think I have more of a soft spot for Blue, Gansey, and Adam than the rest of this group. We’re shown Blue’s prickliness towards the raven boys, and Adam’s self-consciousness about being poor, and Gansey’s good intentions that never seem to go right when he deals with either of them. I was half-irritated with Adam’s pride until I came to a realization that his parents failed him when they instilled an us-versus-them mentality in him (which really covers their sins and did Adam no favors), and I was kind of blown away by that epiphany. And then there’s this sweet fledgling maybe between Adam and Blue. It made me hope, but also fear a little, because thrown into the mix is Blue’s curse that points at Gansey. Everything in this story is so fragile and so breakable, and there is no certainty. I’d very much like to find out what happens next.

Overall: There were things I really liked about The Raven Boys and things I really didn’t and they balanced each other out. If you are one who can sit back and enjoy a character-driven story with lovely prose and you don’t need to know where it’s all going, this will do quite well. I think that I needed more structure though. In the end I enjoyed the characters more than the plot. But now that the set up is done, I think I’ll react better to the second book, so I’m planning to continue the series and I’m really looking forward to The Dream Thieves.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks
Charlotte’s Library
Pirate Penguin Reads
Fantasy Literature
Debbie’s World of Books
The Book Nut
Angieville

Other links:
The Raven Boys website

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater

So I have never read Maggie Stiefvater before. Despite the lovely trailers and generally good reviews, I just haven’t been interested in the teenagers and werewolves or the teenagers and the faerie. But, killer seahorses? I am interested in that. I picked up a copy of The Scorpio Races as BEA, and still, for some reason or another, I held off on reading the book until the reviews started to trickle in and everyone whose taste I trust loved this book. Finally, finally, I started to read it, and was so happy to find that it lived up to all the hype. I loved this one.
 
The Premise: Every November on the wild and remote island of Thisby, there is a race. Every year, tourists and locals watch riders race deadly water horses known as the capaill uisce on a small strip of beach. And every year, someone dies. The Scorpio Races can mean a lot of money if you are lucky and skilled enough to win, but injury, or more likely, death, occurs for the not-so-blessed. For three of the last four years, Sean Kendrick has won the race for his employer, Benjamin Malvern, the most wealthy man on the island. Sean’s father died at the races, but Sean has worked at the stables since he was ten and is the island expert when it comes to the capaill uisce.  This year, Puck Connolly has also decided to join the race, even though she never had an interest in the races nor any love for the creatures responsible for her parents’ deaths. No interest until her brother Gabe announced his intention to leave the island, making Puck desperate for any excuse to keep him around. Puck has no experience, no capall uisce, and no idea what she is in for.
 
My Thoughts: The Scorpio Races begins with a prologue where Sean Kendrick is a ten year old boy who watches as his father is trampled in the annual races. The images of crowds of men and flesh-eating capaill uisce, then his father’s body lying on the beach are violent and memorable. Sean’s reaction, that fear was his father’s mistake, lingered in my mind long afterward. Clearly, Thisby is not a place for the weak of heart.
 
The island is a harsh and unyielding locale, and those who live on Thisby are no strangers to death and heartache. People often move to the mainland, where work is safer and more profitable. Sean lost his mother to the mainland, and his father to the Races, and has been working at the Malvern stables ever since. A man of little words, Sean keeps to himself but is respected for his way with the uisce and for being the returning champion. There is only one living thing he really loves: Corr, the water horse that he rides for his employer. On another part of the island, Puck Connolly elks out a meager living with her older brother Gabe and younger brother Finn. Her story has a similar tale of loss – both her parents were out fishing when they were killed by the uisce. Puck just wants to keep what’s left of her family together, but making a decent living is hard, and Gabe wants to leave. That’s when desperation takes over and Puck announces she’ll be riding in the Races.
 
The story takes its time, alternating viewpoints between Sean and Puck. Usually, I am not a great fan of alternating viewpoints but in The Scorpio Races it was done very well. I loved how this place is reflected in Sean and Puck’s characters and in so many people in Thisby. This wasn’t a story where I’m told something is dangerous but nothing dangerous ever happened. No, here, people die, bad things happen, and you hold your breath while reading because the story is often a hairbreadth away from something awful. The capaill uisce are the real deal. Yet, these terrifying creatures are a part of Thisby – the only place in the world where these creatures come to shore. Sean muses that it is because this is the only place where they are loved. I think that Stiefvater succeeds in creating an atmospheric setting, one that feels magical but also very real and dangerous, but also made me believe people would pick the island and flesh-eating water horses over safety.
 
As Sean and Puck prepare for the races, their reasons for wanting to win become more serious, and both have big obstacles in their way. I won’t get into these reasons or obstacles, but let me say: I couldn’t decide who I wanted to win more. And as they meet and get to know each other, I don’t think Sean and Puck know who they want to win either. Along the way, they’ve begun an attachment that is of the quiet but deep variety. Theirs is a romance of little words but their gestures speak volumes. A single touch or a family dinner carries great meaning and had me swept up in their relationship. When Sean does speak and make his move, it hits you like a ton of bricks.
 
All of this atmosphere and quiet romance and struggle culminates in one thing: the Scorpio Races themselves. This is the part of the story where I was feverishly flipping the pages, and it is over quickly, but oh, is it awesome. I finished off this story with a mix of elation and contentment.
 
Overall: The Scorpio Races is quiet perfection. It was one of my top reads of last year (honestly, it ties for number one). This is an incredibly well-crafted tale set in a fierce and beautiful island, with just the right touch of the otherworldly and steadfast characters that persevere. It’s a story that is thoughtful and gradually builds up it’s characters and relationships, and it’s not for those that require instant gratification. My kind of story.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Angieville – “perfect”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “One of my favorite books read this year”
The Book Smugglers –  8- Excellent and leaning toward 9
Escape In a Book – 4 (out of 5)
Jane of All Reads – positive
Book Harbinger – “in the running for my favorite book of the year”
 
Book Trailer:

Best of 2011 and plans for 2012

2006 - 103 books, 2007 - 99 books, 2008 - 77 books, 2009 - 79 books, 2010 - 82 books, 2011 - 85 books

(click chart made via onlinecharttool.com to embiggen)

Every year, same goal of reading 100 books, but the only year I made it was 2006, before I started reviewing.

Newsflash: reviewing cuts into reading time!  But, that’s OK, I like to blog.

To break down the books I’ve read, you can check out goodreads. There you’ll see I read 86 “books”, but I didn’t count the one graphic novel. I did count a couple of novellas because I read some longer 500+ page books as well and figured they balanced each other out. So in 2011, I read 85 books.

Out of those books, I have my favorites, and my favorites have two categories. Those books that blew me out of the water, and those that came very close to doing that. Blew me out of the water always a difficult group to get into, because it’s based on sheer emotion. If I feel euphoric LOVE after I finish a book, it goes on the list. Not many books do that to me. So:

Blew me out of the water:

Close to perfection:



(each image links to my review, if I have reviewed the book).

There are so many books not on this list that I consider keepers. Another 20 books at least, so 2011 was not a bad reading year at all. Check out my goodreads to see all the 4 star books this year not on this list here. I was actually good about putting the books I read on there this year.

Goals for 2012:

  • Again keep trying to get to 100 books read
  • Since I can’t finish a challenge to save my life.. try not to join so many challenges (hah, we’ll see)
  • Buy whatever books I want to. :) I have given up the fight against the TBR, but I know what’s reasonable.
  • Stay relaxed with the blogging thing.
  • And this year, the goal is to catch up on some series. I have a lot of series that I’m realizing I’m behind on and would like to get back into.