Off the Shelf: A Review of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

701930_10208898432764109_1965720434203096203_oI have loved the Merry Fates for a long time. When Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff got together and started writing short stories together as the Merry Fates, it was like a blissful literary union that was simply meant to be. I loved their website (merryfates.com), where they each frequently posted new short stories, and I was even so inspired by it that, for a short time, I had a similar website with two close friends (spellboundscribblers.com). I’m hoping that sometime soon we can revive that site, but two of us being in grad school and the other in her senior year of undergrad while all three working full time…well, it just didn’t pan out time-wise.

But are you ready for a major confession? As much as I love the Merry Fates, and I enjoy all of the anthologies they’ve put out together, I have never read any of their individual works. Why not? I’m not really sure. I think I stumbled into loving them while I was majorly on a short story kick, and I just never pursued it past that. A ridiculously stupid excuse, I acknowledge, because I finally picked up Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, and all I want to do is scream, “HELLO, BEAUTIFUL, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL OF MY LIFE?”

To which the book would respond, “On the shelf, you idiot. Why don’t you listen when people talk about how good I am?”

Or at least it would if books could speak. So, while it has taken me some time to come around to picking this book up, and even though it’s not a new release (not even remotely close…although book 4 soon will be), let’s go ahead and take a look at why this book is so amazing. Shall we?

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Off the Shelf: A Review of Instructions for the End of the World by Jamie Kain

You know the feeling when you read a book’s synopsis and immediately feel the surge of excitement as you dive straight into the pool of plot potential? Now, imagine you jumped right in, only to discover that pool had been drained. Welcome to how I felt about Instructions for the End of the World.

instructions

Summary via Goodreads
“He prepared their family for every natural disaster known to man—except for the one that struck.
When Nicole Reed’s father forces her family to move to a remote area of the Sierra Foothills, one without any modern conveniences, her life is completely turned upside down.
It’s not that Nicole isn’t tough. She’s learned how to hunt, and she knows how to build things—she’s been preparing for the worst-case scenario for what seems like forever.
But when she and her sister, Izzy, are left alone in this remote landscape to fend for themselves, her skills are put to the ultimate test. She’s fine for a while, but then food begins to run out, the pipes begin to crack, and forest fires start to inch closer every day.
When Wolf, a handsome boy from the neighboring community, offers to help, Nicole feels conflicted. She can take care of herself. But things have begun to get desperate, and there’s something about this boy she can’t shake.
As feelings develop between these two—feelings Nicole knows her father would never allow once he returns—she must make a decision. With her family falling apart, will she choose to continue preparing for tomorrow’s disasters, or will she take a chance and start living for today?”

Things I Liked:

The premise. Well, that’s a stretch. I liked the idea of a girl being raised by a survivalist and having to put those skills to the test. Probably because it’s an idea near and dear to me…that happens to be the premise of a NaNoWriMo novel I was working on a couple years ago. But does that happen in this book anywhere? Sadly, no. Maybe I’m just biased…Maybe it’s cause I was born and raised in Appalachia, and my dad happens to be a prepper…but I’m pretty sure Nicole didn’t exhibit any survivalist skills at all. Sure, she carries a gun (can she shoot it? don’t really know…she kills a squirrel in a flashback, but is haunted by the memory), but carrying that gun seems to be about the only “skill” Nicole has. The girl doesn’t understand basic plumbing, and we’re expected to believe that she’s some survivalist expert thanks to her dad? She doesn’t strike me as someone who would make it a week if a real crisis happened.

Oh, well…there went the one thing I liked about the book…

I suppose I could say that I somewhat liked Wolf, Nicole’s hippie commune tree-hugging neighbor who is immediately drawn to her even though she personifies everything against his beliefs. Well, that actually kinda makes me gag a little…but truthfully, he wasn’t a bad character. The book switches point of view between the characters, and his sections were the most tolerable. I would have been happier with less about Nicole, and more about Wolf, his life in the commune, and his strained relationship with his mother. That might’ve made for an interesting book.

Things I Didn’t Like:

SO. MUCH. POTENTIAL. SQUANDERED.

You’re probably getting the idea that I didn’t like this book. Cause I didn’t. I wanted to SO, SO bad. I didn’t give up on it. I pushed my way through, waiting for it to fulfill the hopes that I had had for such a promising plot. Spoiler alert – it didn’t happen.

First, if you read the book’s description and think Nicole and her sister are going to be surviving some end-of-the-world scenario, you’re wrong. Let’s clear that up right now. It’s more like this: Survivalist Dad brings unhappy wife, eager-to-please daughter, and younger brat daughter to live in a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere. Unhappy Wife, a Cambodian immigrant who just wants a normal life, gets pissed about living less than upper middle class (on top of a few other reasons), and flees the cabin to find a better life. Survivalist Dad goes to look for her, leaving his two children some supplies and the expectation that he will be back within a few days, at the most a week. Well, guess what? Dad stays gone…OVER A MONTH. Who does that? Really? I’m pretty sure that’s child neglect. Oh, sure, he expects Nicole to have the skills to keep her sister and herself alive, but as I mentioned before, nothing about this book made me think that Nicole could truly take care of herself. And it doesn’t even really get hard for them…the worst of it is when they can’t figure out the plumbing so -oh no!- they can’t shower. Did the author research survival skills at all? It might have been a good idea to incorporate a little practical, survival wisdom SOMEWHERE in a book with this plot.

Also, the switches in POV often include major time gaps that aren’t explained. It’s often hard to tell how much time has passed. Oh, and an important thing happened? You might hear about it vaguely. At one point, we’re in Nicole’s sister’s point of view, and she’s fed up and hitchhiking to town with a bunch of kids from the hippie commune. Next, we’re in Nicole’s POV and she briefly mentions that she and her sister got into an argument at midnight the night before. Wait…the night before? That’s when her sister was supposed to be gone. Oh…well…a few pages later Wolf explains that the commune kids brought her back home. It’s completely convoluted and confusing. There’s a definite struggle trying to keep up with this kind of timeline, and to me it just wasn’t worth the effort.

And probably the thing that ticked me off the most…Warning! Spoiler alert! When their dad finally does return, it’s only because of an emergency situation with wildfire spreading close to the house. He gets arrested for going against the order to evacuate (…does no one with the police notice that two minors are now unattended? Okay, guess we will just ignore that cause I guess no one at the emergency shelter noticed that the two girls were on their own either…)BUT THEN…Nicole finally confronts her father about the real reasons her mother left. What does Dad do? SLAP HER. That’s right, he slaps her…right in front of her sister and everything. Where does it go from here? Nowhere. It becomes a “we don’t really talk about that” kind of thing, but hey, at least the girls get to go to public school now since Dad feels guilty. That makes it worth it, right? No. He left two children to survive on their own for over a month and then slaps the crap out of his daughter that dares to challenge him…does none of this sound like abuse to anyone? and we’re supposed to just think it’s all hunky-dory? This quite literally made me sick.

Overall Rating:

It’s getting a 2, and let’s consider that generous. For a moment, I felt like I might be taking it a bit too hard on the book. Maybe I should be a bit nicer and give it a three. Then, I remembered how many times I said out loud while reading, “I don’t know if I even want to finish this.” Nope. If you get that kind of reaction out of me, then I can’t just give you a middle ground 3. It’s definitely a 2. It had so much potential, and a lot of things I really wanted to like…but I just didn’t. Poorly executed and overall very disappointing.

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Waiting on Wednesday #4

The plots that tend to get stuck in my head usually are of the thriller genre. My on-again-off-again work in progress is tentatively titled Captive, and is about a young girl who has spent the majority of her life imprisoned by her abductor and who must make some very difficult choices in order to save herself. While I was sitting at lunch the other day, an idea struck me for a different story about two friends, self-destruction, a disappearance, and guilt. Won’t reveal too much about that one just yet… BUT I can say that once I saw the synopsis for After the Woods, I knew I would have to read it for the inspiration to tell the story I want to tell. That’s why it earns this week’s Waiting on Wednesday.

After the Woods
By Kim Savage
Publication Date: February 23, 2016

afterthewoods

Synopsis (via Goodreads)

“Would you risk your life to save your best friend?

Julia did. When a paroled predator attacked Liv in the woods, Julia fought back and got caught. Liv ran, leaving Julia in the woods for a terrifying 48 hours that she remembers only in flashbacks. One year later, Liv seems bent on self-destruction, starving herself, doing drugs, and hooking up with a violent new boyfriend. A dead girl turns up in those same woods, and Julia’s memories resurface alongside clues unearthed by an ambitious reporter that link the girl to Julia’s abductor. As the devastating truth becomes clear, Julia realizes that after the woods was just the beginning.”

Why I’m Waiting

Well, if you read the opening of this post, then you know I’m looking for inspiration for my own story. This book sounds right up the alley of what I like to write. I want mystery. I want suspense. I want to see the power of friendship facing the evils of the world.
From the reviews I’ve read (which seemed to consistently be 5 star reviews), it’s looking like Julia will shape up to be a fantastic heroine, strong and self-sacrificing. I’m looking forward to all of the twists, turns, and complications she will encounter.
This is the author’s debut novel, and if it’s as good as I think it will be, then I think Kim Savage will definitely be one to watch in the future. Her next thriller (title TBD) will be available in 2017, so we will have a bit of a wait to see what’s next from her.

Add After the Woods to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
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Waiting on Wednesday #3

February is such a good month! Know why? Well, yes, it is the month of my birthday, but know why else February is so great? The day after my birthday is the release of Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan! There was no debate here, this book definitely tops my Waiting on Wednesday list.

Reign of Shadows

By Sophie Jordan

Publication Date: February 9th

reignofshadows

Synopsis (via Goodreads)

“Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead.

But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.

With every threat stacked against them, Luna and Fowler find solace in each other. But with secrets still unspoken between them, falling in love might be their most dangerous journey yet.

With lush writing and a star–crossed romance, Reign of Shadows is Sophie Jordan at her best.”

Why I’m Waiting

Do you SEE that cover? I have no shame in judging a book by its cover – and this one is going to be good!
Also, by now you know my undying love for dark retellings of classic fairytales. This one here is playing off of Rapunzel, which you don’t see very often. There are all sorts of Cinderella or Alice in Wonderland retellings, but Rapunzel, not so much. I’m excited to dig in and see what fairytale elements have been included.
Another reason I’m waiting for this release is that, if you’ve read any of my recent reviews, you’ll know that most of the books I’ve read lately haven’t had a romantic plot. I’m getting in the mood for a book that will pull at my heartstrings.
I’ve already pre-ordered this one for the library’s collection, so I’ll be anxiously awaiting its arrival. If you happen to get ahold of it first, leave me a comment to let me know what you think of it!

Add Reign of Shadows to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
Pre-order via Amazon
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