1331529Poison, by Chris Wooding

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

Any spoilers in this review? Yup! I quote enough it would be hard to make this review spoiler safe. Apologies.

Summary: Poison has always been a willful, contrary girl, prone to being argumentative and stubborn. So when her sister is snatched by the mean-spirited faeries, she seeks out the Phaerie Lord to get her back. But finding him isn’t easy, and the quest leads Poison into a murderous world of intrigue, danger, and deadly storytelling. With only her wits and her friends to aid her, Poison must survive the attentions of the Phaerie Lord, rescue her sister, and thwart a plot that’s beyond anything she (or the reader) can imagine…

Alright, so this book came out of the left field. I read it ages ago, so my memory of it was mainly an impression of profoundness and really, really enjoying it. This didn’t mean much, though, because my opinions and standards have changed since I read this oh-so-many years ago.

We’ll start with the plot, which is basic enough. Her sister gets kidnapped and she goes to get her sister back. However, the simple plot morphs over time. Frankly, by the end it felt like a bait and switch, as if Wooding realized the plot was a wee bit too simple, so turned it into a murder mystery, then a coming of age, and then wrapped it up. Simple plots can be good, though, and it did a small disservice to the book to change it by the end. After all, the drive Poison had to get of Gull and just to save her sister was wonderful in itself, simple or not.

Now to the characters, which also were… basic enough. Poison bordered on a Mary Sue at times—what with her special violet eyes and tough, no nonsense, “everyone wants to be a princess; it’s boring” (page 115) character. I found myself at least once thinking with a little bit of disgust “yes, you’re special little snowflake.” But there’s no need to diss princesses. There’s no shame in being a princess, and it doesn’t make you cooler to scorn being one. But Mrryk points out on page 115 that at least they’re not the overused warrior, sorceress, and thief trope. And we can be happy for that. However…

There’s a line you can cross when pulling off this style of storytelling. Wooding almost crossed it. As an author, you can point out the flaws and the weak plot points via characters sometimes. It’s a way to acknowledge that, yes, you see how ridiculous X is and, look, the character recognizes it too! And sometimes that’s okay. But sometimes it’s a wee bit shoddy. Pointing out the flaws yourself as the author doesn’t justify their existence. Melcheron did it to Poison a few times in their conversation, either about her own character and reactions or about a past plot point—like Mrryk and how he never needed to eat even after 100 years.

Overall, it didn’t get too heavy handed. And Wooding didn’t lean on it as a crutch, which was good. But his characters did feel like various archetypes. Like, of course Poison began to care for Peppercorn. And of course Peppercorn was flighty and emotional, a good foil for Poison—to show that Poison did care, but also that Poison was much more on top of things compared to Peppercorn. And of course there’s a vague father figure in Bram. That kind of thing. It wasn’t terrible or overdone, but it was headed in that direction.

But there was a reason for Mrryk and Melcheron pointing out the things they did, even though it got a bit annoying at times. It worked towards the meat of the plot, which is actually where I had some trouble. Because the worldview taken to it’s full extent is… a little scary. And I didn’t like the conclusions it, I believe, unintentionally came to. Especially as the plot—the Hierophant angle—can easily be a real life worldview.

Here’s an excerpt from page 203:

Poison would have shed a tear then, if she had any left. “You’re fictions, all of you. Just like me.”

“How can you think that?” Fleet cried, suddenly spurred to animation. “We feel, we love, we cry, we bleed, we sacrifice. . . . If that is not life, then what is? What’s your definition, Poison? How can you think that the Hierophant is controlling you somehow? Don’t you make your own choices? Didn’t you choose to come on this quest?”

“But did I? I don’t know,” she said, sinking back to the pillows. “If ever I needed proof that my choices are illusions, you have just given it to me. Look what happens when I refuse to do as he wants. The story is fading around me. Why can’t I choose to give up?”

Ok, that’s skirting some very fine lines about suicide here. And it can so easily be applied to real life. So, if you’re reading this book and don’t have an opinion on where you end up after you die, I just… taken to the full conclusion, what’s the point of living? It’s more powerful to take your own life and prove you have control than living in a world—real or fictional—where you’re not sure you control your own destiny. And that, anyone-who-reads-this, is a very, very sketchy ground to trod on in stories. Especially for the audience age group this is for.

The turn around happens on pages 205 to 207.

“You’re fictions . . . ” she protested weakly.

“Yes, yes, I’ve heard that, too,” he snarled. “Fictions. Ridiculous! I’m as alive as you, and you’re as alive as the Hierophant. We’re all alive, Poison. By any definition you have, we’re alive. Even if you think we’ve been given life by someone else. We all have dreams and ambitions, we all have plans and wishes, and you’re taking them all away from us.” He stood up, making a gesture of disgust with one gloved hand. “Didn’t you ever believe in a god, Poison?”

“When I was young . . .” she croaked.

“Then how is this different?”

“Because then I believed . . . I had control of my own destiny. . . .”

“But don’t you see?” Bram cried. “You’ve proved your point! You do have control over your own destiny. You’re choosing to die, choosing to kill us all with you. Nobody has stopped you; nobody can stop you except yourself. It doesn’t matter what the consequences of your choice are, but you made it yourself.”

Poison was frankly surprised that Bram had thought that up himself. “That’s . . . good enough,” she said, wiping the lank strands of her hair away from her face. “If the only way to make the world right . . .  is to do what he wants me to do . . .  then it’s no choice at all.”

“You don’t have the right to kill us all!” he cried.

“How do you know . . .  you’re even alive?” she countered.

“How does anyone? How does anyone know anything? There’s never any true answers, Poison. Everything is uncertain. That’s life. We can only deal with the world as we are presented with it. Don’t you appreciate that? All I want from life is to get back home, to buy that house in the mountains, and to never have to think about phaeries and Hierophants ever again! You’re robbing me of that dream, Poison! What gives you the right to decide whether all of us deserve to live?”

“Because . . .” she whispered.  “Because you’re all dying. Because you’re all dying because I’m dying. What gives you the right to make me live? How can you make me responsible for the whole world?”

“You are responsible for the whole world!” Bram said, suddenly triumphant. “And do you know what that means?”

Poison frowned. “I don’t . . .”

“It means this is your story, you fool!” he cried.

[…] “It means you have power over it just like the Hierophant does!” Bram cried. “If I die, if Peppercorn dies . . . well, the world will go on as normal. But because you’re dying, the whole tale collapses. Don’t you see? You’re the heroine! This is your story. Without you, it doesn’t work.” Bram’s eyes were flashing now with manic enthusiasm. “So if this is your tale, then take control of it! Fight back! Do something!”

“Do what?” Poison said weakly. “How can . . . how can I fight?”

“I don’t know!” Bram said, stamping around the room. “You’re the clever one. You’ve overcome everything that he’s thrown at you so far. Fight back, and there’s a chance, a chance you can do something about your situation. Are you willing to throw your life away—all our lives!—without being certain? Try! And if you fail, you can always give up again.”

So, I don’t even know where to begin with dissecting the logic Bram puts forth. And I realize that this story is fictional, and fantasy at that, but all stories have some foot in the real world. And the reasoning used here, applied to real life, is… well, I find it a bit horrifying? Especially Bram’s last line.

(Side note: Bram read OOC in that entire scene and the entire time all I could think was, “Yes, you know why you’re so surprised at Bram’s character change, Poison? Because this is a last ditch effort by some Hierophant somewhere to save everyone’s skin and they’re using Bram to be their mouth.” Honestly.)

The writing style and everything about this felt like it was directed for the younger side of the middle school age group, despite mostly seeing it on YA shelves on Goodreads. It’s a clever little story, but because of the worldview, I’d be incredibly wary letting just anyone read it. Read at the wrong time, it could drive someone into a downward spiral. Or maybe I’m just being overdramatic. I certainly didn’t pick up on it from what I can remember reading it ages ago, but I was and am entirely oblivious to some things at times. I just don’t want to underestimate the power of the written word. So the worldview in this alarmed me.

Overall, because of plot, the book felt a bit… meh. Indecisive, especially with the way it all wrapped up and Poison never did get to see her sister again. I can’t decide if I’d recommend this or not, but if you read it because of this review, drop me a comment or such with your thoughts. Or link me to your review. Whichever.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: less than five curses at the most, kidnapping, death threats to the main character—anything you’d expect in a fairytale retelling, since this definitely has a fairytale vibe through most if it. PG-13 at the most, for disturbing images, some violence, and dangerous situations. Some of the antagonists were very disturbing. (Looking at you, Lady of Spiders.) There was no sex or romance.


The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2)

17347389The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2), by Maggie Stiefvater

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

Any spoilers in this review? Sadly, yes. Spoilers for book 1 and spoilers for book 2, because I ranted a lot. (And here’s a link to my review of book 1, if you’re interested.)

Summary: Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

Aight. I have two complaints. I’m sure you’re all dying to hear them, so let us begin.

1. Blue. Blue, girl, you and I need to have words. I could get behind you in the first book, but this? This ruined it.

Listen to me very, very closely. I don’t care how much you want a normal life. I don’t care if you want a boyfriend. I don’t care if you want to kiss someone. The foundation of your life is that psychics can be real. Specifically, the ones who raised you and love you are bonafide psychics. And they tell you that the person you kiss will die. So you know what you don’t do? Kiss anyone. And you definitely don’t start dating someone—someone who believes in psychics and the supernatural—and not tell them that little detail.

It’s absolutely ridiculous. Is it fair that Blue has this particular prophecy/reading about her love life when all she wants is a boyfriend and to be kissed and to be normal? No. But guess what? She has a prophecy/reading about her love life that’s less than convenient but she has to deal anyway.

Because you do not date someone and not tell them that. You don’t risk their life like that. If it were someone more cavalier than Adam, the boy could’ve easily leaned in and given her a random smooch as the mood called for it. Yes, I believe in consent. But they’re dating. At some point they’d be comfortable enough it’ll seem natural to Adam to lean in and kiss her, right?

I have absolutely no pity for Blue after she completely shut down—angrily and dumbly, at that—Adam when he tried to bring it up.

Oh, and then you get to this scene on page 365 with Gansey:

Gansey turned to her, his eyes bright. He just nodded.

Why, she thought, agonized, couldn’t it have been Adam?

She said, “If you find out, will you tell me?”

He’s going to die, Blue, don’t—

“I don’t know if we’re meant to find out,” he said.

That… sounds terrible. Absolutely terrible. “Why couldn’t it have been Adam?” Like, what the utter heck, Blue? I know you’re in the throes of emotional teenage angst, but that’s horrible. Why couldn’t it have been Adam who’s going to die in X months? That solves nothing! You still can’t kiss Gansey because of your kiss of death!

1.5 Again, with Blue. Every time something comes up, she’s far too quick to get up in arms. And her conversation in the car with Gansey, sometime during the scene on top of the mountain overlooking the city, was just painful. Gansey kept having to add these disclaimers like “not that I’m saying—” and “I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant and you know it and” and honestly, Blue, just chill? Gansey’s not sexist. He’s just very awkward with his friends, let alone with you and your/his budding crush. I.e., he’s human. There are ways to gently correct if he’s obviously in the wrong. And he wasn’t trying to call you weak or trying to sound sexist. Honestly. I just… honestly.

A good example of her getting up in arms too quickly is the beginning of chapter 21. Blue says they should take Ronan to have a consultation with her family. Ronan said no. There’s some confusion. And then Blue “icily” says, “This is a religion thing, isn’t it?” And, ok, A) this is Ronan, so what did she expect? But B) Blue is utterly… horrible about it? Totally, overly, snarlingly defensive? Surely she’s met skeptics of psychics in her life. But of all the things to have a problem with, Ronan having a religion that doesn’t agree with her beliefs shouldn’t—like, if they actually want to hang out and/or be friends to a certain degree or even run in the same circles, Blue needs to loosen up and realize not everyone is going to believe her or her family. Discuss it like rational people if it’s such a big deal.

Religion is an especially touchy subject today. And I don’t like how Blue dealt with it, however brief the scene was.

2. Ronan and what happened with Gansey’s car. Now, you can argue until you’re blue (ha—see what I did there?) in the face that it’s just transit and it’s just a car and Gansey could get any other, but Ronan himself said several times that Gansey wanted his Pig. Not a different, fake car. His Pig. Setting aside whether or not Gansey should be that attached to his possession, it’s clearly something to matters to him.

So it absolutely boggles my mind why Ronan would be so careless and so… inconsiderate when it comes to Gansey’s Pig. Gansey who he loves, even if he doesn’t respect at all/in a noticeable way. The Pig is so much more than a car and yet Ronan wanted to street race with it and I just cannot fathom it. It’s one thing to want to race a particular car. It’s another if it’s Gansey’s Pig. Knowing how Gansey felt about the Pig should’ve neatly put the Pig “off the market” of street racing, as it were.

I have a friend whose car means a lot to them. Just like Gansey and his car. And my friend has made it pretty clear that they really appreciate having wheels and their own car and such. And I respect that. A lot. I love my friend. And because I know how much their car means to them, when I visited them, even if they had offered, I probably would’ve refused to drive it. I would’ve been so stressed about driving it I would probably get in the very wreck that I was worried I’d get in driving their car in the first place. And it’s not even getting in a wreck that would bug me so much as I ruined their car. After they hypothetically trusted me with something that matters to them.

Gansey didn’t let Ronan drive the Pig for pretty obvious reasons.

I just can’t fathom how little respect for Gansey that translates into? For the sake of plot, he crashed the Pig, but still. He literally dreamed keys, accidentally or not. He literally waited for Gansey to be out of town and without the Pig to go race it. When he knows how Gansey feels about the Pig and street racing in general.

Listen, if we’re going to have a misunderstand, woe-is-me, “heart of gold” bad boy character, at least give more proof that his heart, frankly, actually exists? I shouldn’t have to look for it. I don’t like how Ronan treats his friends. He’s cruel and harsh. He said something to Adam that made me furious, to the effect of “yeah, not all of us were born in hell though” and you just… don’t say that to someone from an abusive home? Whose dad you punched because you saw him beating Adam up?

I understand Ronan to a certain degree, but I certainly don’t agree with him on everything and I’m not sure I like the light Stiefvater is showing him in. It’s a bit too positive, if that makes sense. I’m still wary of Ronan and I could also really do without Stiefvater’s love affair with street racing sprinkled in.

I feel like people may say that he gets better in future books and there are examples of his good in said future books, but… I should be seeing his worth as a friend now. I shouldn’t have to wait for his heart of gold to manifest from his bad boy persona. Especially in a book centered on him and one that should give us a better idea of what’s in his head.

3. I’m disappointed with the plot. It kind of… stuttered and trickled along. And then the most random plot point of all was introduced. Kavinsky and his obsession with Ronan. And the dramatic “if you’re not with me, you’re against me.” And the kidnapping of Matthew. It all felt so forced and fake. Meanwhile, Adam’s got magic in him. An ancient and old magic that I want to know more about. I want to learn more about Cabeswater instead of this stalling Stiefvater does. I’m half tempted to say, out of pure cynicalness, that the plot stuttering is all about dragging out a series for more moolah. Honestly, I do like all the characters. They’re real and flawed. (Very, very flawed.) And they give me anxiety. But! Amazing character development—not romance! Character development! The romance sucked!—can only carry the book so far. There needs to be more Muchness to make a truly great book.

This one lacked its Muchness. The plot is very sketchy right now. Purely from an analytical angle, the Kavinsky-kidnaps-Ronan’s-brother-in-a-fit-of-jealous-rage plot felt very random. As if only to add some drama to the book and have a scene with nightmare creatures from dreams fighting in “real” life.

Overall, I enjoy Stiefvater’s writing and I enjoy the characters. They’re all flawed which, while it makes them more real, also frustrates me. I’m looking at you two, Blue and Ronan.

Three stars because of plot and the Blue/Ronan frustrations that I don’t feel were dealt with properly. I do hope the rest of the series picks up.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: enough cursing to rate an R if it were a movie (thanks, Ronan); talk of kissing but nothing was ever too crude; hints of bisexuality/homosexuality on Kavinsky and Ronan’s part, which are enough that you should steer clear if that’s not your cup of tea; and there’s a hitman who, you know, kills people. YMMV.


Quotes I liked:

“I know you think you’re a punk,” Declan said, “but you aren’t nearly as badass as you think you are.” —93

By the time they had tamped the last pile of dirt over the hole, they were soaked with rain and sweat. There was something warming, Ronan thought, about all of them burying a body on his behalf. He would’ve preferred it to stay in his dreams, but if it had to slip out, this was better than the last out-of-control nightmare. —152

Gansey ran over the memory until he no longer felt the thrill of hearing Glendower’s name whispered in his ear and then instead gave himself over to feeling sorry for himself, that he should have so many friends and yet feel so alone. He felt it fell to him to comfort them, but never the other way around. —132

A Monster Calls

8621462A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG

Any spoilers in this review? A few. They’ve been blocked out with black highlight. Highlight it again with your mouse to read it.

Summary: The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

My eyes were watering by the end. This is incredibly well done. I was impressed by the writing style. It wasn’t over the top and did such a good job of actually showing and not telling that it packed this story to the brim. The characters were great and you could tell so much about each one because of the writing. The plot isn’t a plot so much as a hard and aching truth that grows in you the way some truth does that you have to face when young.

Everything came together in the most bittersweet way possible. The art added little pieces to the story too. One scene in particular showed the monster hitting Harry, only it showed Conor shoving Harry, not the monster. It was never touched on in the book, but it makes one wonder if the monster was real or not. Especially with lines like this.

There are so many layers to this story that I don’t want to touch them and disturb how perfectly done they are. The writing, characters, and plot were are so intrinsically combined. Wonderful, wonderful job, Ness. I didn’t need my heart, apparently.

I picked up this book because I saw the trailer and it looked really good. Now I can’t wait for the movie! I hope they do the book justice!

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: There’s a minuscule amount of cursing. There’s anger and helplessness and this story is very, very heavy and could be depressing for some. There’s no romance or sex.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1)

17675462The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1), by Maggie Stiefvater

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

SummaryEvery year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her. His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore. 

Guys. Guys, I don’t even know what to say. I feel like I accidentally finished this book, because it wasn’t my intention to read it in two days. And everyone in this book won my heart over. So, on the one hand I’m like, “This is so amazing! I love them all! Look at them! So real! Look how true and complex and realistic their relationships are!” and the other hand I’m wailing in a corner, clutching at my heart because these stupid raven boys.

I don’t think you’lll get a very articulate review out of me. The summary was rather “eh” and I wasn’t ready to be so emotionally compromised. Gah. There feel like there are literally too many things to address.

I was actually yelling, “What does that mean!” after finishing the book, though. And then the summary for the next book explained things.  Anyway, great book. Amazing job. I didn’t need my heart, apparently.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief (beware of spoilers below!): cursing is mild. There were a handful of inappropriate sexual comments (love you too, Ronan) and there’s a murder. Two of the characters find the bones of a human being. There’s ghosts. The main character is a daughter of a psychic and lives with psychics, all of whom are touted as real. One of the characters is in an abusive family and, since the POV switches sometimes, you get a chapter where they’re beaten by their father. It’s violent and disturbing. On screen, this may rate an R rating. As it is, precede with caution.


Miscellaneous thoughts:

1. I think Persephone is the famous psychic named Leila that was mentioned in passing.

2. The more I read of Adam and Gansey, the more I saw what I imagined Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin would’ve been like. I mean, look:

Maura continued, “You’re avoiding a hard choice. Acting by not acting. You’re ambitious, but you feel like someone’s asking some of you you’re not willing to give. Asking you to compromise your principles. Someone close to you, I think. Your father?”

“Brother, I think,” Persephone said.

“I don’t have a brother, ma’am,” Adam replied. But Blue saw his eyes dart to Gansey. (Page 145)

I read that as was like, “This. This is Godric and Salazar.”** It’s a Slytherin in a tough situation that the Gryffindor wants so desperately to fix, but both have different types of pride, and so neither can really move farther. It was amazing. And the characters all stayed consistent throughout the book. I’m also pretty sure Adam is an INTJ or ISTJ, as some of his thoughts and reasoning was rather exactly what I would think in his situation. Adam is my favorite and needs to be hugged.


Quotes of interest:

Blue never grew tired of feeling particularly needed, but sometimes she wished needed felt less like a synonym for useful. —Page 11

Gansey preferred Ronan to his elder brother Declan, and so the lines had been drawn. Adam suspected Gansey’s preference was because Ronan was earnest even if he was horrible, and with Gansey, honesty was golden. —Page 48

Ronan’s expression was still incendiary. His code of honor left no room for infidelity, for casual relationships. It wasn’t that he didn’t condone them; he couldn’t understand them. —Page 49

“I could cover you until you found something.”

There was a very long silence as Adam continued scrubbing his fingers. He didn’t look up at Gansey. This was a conversation they’d had before, and entire days of arguments were replayed in the few moments of quiet. The words had been said often enough that they didn’t need to be said again.

Success meant nothing to Adam if he hadn’t done it for himself. —Page 132

A wrinkle formed between Adam’s eyebrows as he looked away. Not at the double-wides in the foreground, but past them, to the flat, endless field with its tufts of dry grass. So many things survived here without actually living. He said, “it means I never get to be my own person. If I let you cover for me, then I’m yours. I’m his now, and then I’ll be yours.” —133