Teen Book Reviews: the “Raven Cycle” series

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from someone who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

The Raven Cycle consists of four books, all reviewed below. WARNING: Possible spoilers exist.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Reviewed by Mia V.

The Raven Boys is the first book in the Raven Cycle, and is the story of four prep school boys, Adam, Ronan, Gansey and Noah, who embark on a journey to find the deceased Welsh king, Glendower. Adam is a poor farm boy with an abusive father, while Ronan is a somewhat scary and viciously protective friend, and Gansey is an extremely passionate and extremely wealthy boy who simply wants to find Glendower. And Noah… well we don’t know a lot about Noah other than that he is friends with the other Raven Boys.

Blue, the daughter of a psychic, also finds herself swept up in the quest to find Glendower, while she tries to make sense of the prophecy her mother has given her; that she will cause her true love to die. Despite coming from a family of clairvoyants, Blue does not possess the ability to see into the future. Although she initially dislikes the snobby, prep-school boys, she later becomes close friends with all of them.

The four boys spend practically all of their time together, at their school Aglionby Academy, and at their own place, Monmouth Manufacturing. Gansey leads Adam, Ronan, Noah and Blue, on the quest to find Glendower which proves to be both frustrating and dangerous. Gansey and his friends find themselves competing with Mr. Whelk, their high school Latin teacher. Mr. Whelk has his own reasons for finding Glendower, which are revealed later as the race to Glendower commences. Blue and the Raven Boys uncover shocking secrets and supernatural powers as they try to find Gansey’s king.

The Raven Boys is a beautifully adventurous novel with many supernatural elements and crazy occurrences. I also enjoyed the witty humor of many of the characters as well as their unique personalities and hobbies (and their secrets). Overall I would definitely recommend this book. But get ready to read the next three Raven Cycle books (which are just as good or maybe even better than the first,) because this book ends on a cliffhanger.

4 stars.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. Reviewed by Mia V.

The second book in the Raven Cycle focuses more on Ronan rather than Gansey. The Dream Thieves focuses on Ronan’s ability to bring items from his dreams to the real world and his struggle with controlling this power. Ronan tells his friends Gansey, Blue, Adam and Noah, about this skill early in the novel. Ronan and his friends had already been on a supernatural quest to find “Gansey’s king”, Glendower, who is a deceased Welsh king. At Aglionby Academy, the private school that Ronan, Adam and Gansey attend, Ronan’s brother, Declan is badly beaten by a sinister man who calls himself the Gray Man. The Gray Man was hired by a powerful man who wants to find the Greywaren, an object that can bring items back from dreams. Even though Declan knows his brother is the Greywaren and that it is not a physical object, he keeps his mouth shut to keep his brother safe.

Meanwhile, in the hunt for Glendower, Ronan finds himself accidentally bringing horrifying and powerful creatures back from his dreams. Ronan and his friends have to battle Ronan’s uncontrollable dream-nightmare creatures while continuing the quest to find Glendower. Simultaneously, Ronan is being hunted down by the Gray Man, who is out to kill Ronan because of his ability to bring things back from his dreams. This book is fantastic, and possibly my favorite out of all four of the Raven Cycle books.

The stakes have definitely been raised since the last book, with all of the characters experiencing more risks in the quest to find Glendower. Meanwhile, Ronan battles some deep internal issues which manifest in the things he brings back from his dreams, which can sometimes be dangerous. This book is great and I highly recommend it!

5 stars.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Reviewed by Mia V.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in the Raven Cycle, which continues the tale of Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah and Blue, and their quest to find Glendower, a dead Welsh king, whom Gansey feels a strange connection with. This connection has led him to embark on a quest to find Glendower, a quest that he drags his friends on as well.

After the friends discover Ronan’s ability to bring items and creatures back from his dreams in the previous novel, it is discovered that Adam also has a unique power. Henrietta, Virginia, the town where the book takes place, has a large ley line running directly through the town. Blue’s family of psychics are very familiar with ley lines, which emit energies that psychics are able to harness to help see the future. These energies are also responsible for the various supernatural occurrences in Henrietta. Adam discovers that he can harness the power of the ley lines with the help of Peresphone.

Meanwhile, the Raven Boys and Blue discover a new threat in an artifact collector, Colin Greenmantle who targets Blue’s mom, Maura. As the group continues their search for Glendower they discover many strange and supernatural occurrences. The Raven Boys and Blue navigate new territories, and encounter unexpected surprises in their quest to find Glendower. Blue and her family unveil new prophecies that tell terrible fates for some of the characters, and reveal hidden secrets. I really enjoyed this book.

Although I feel like the other Raven Cycle books are better, I still really enjoyed this book, and I know that the Raven Cycle would not be complete without Blue Lily, Lily Blue. This book sets the reader up perfectly for the last book in the series, The Raven King.

4 stars.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Reviewed by Mia V.

The Raven King is the final book in the Raven Cycle series, which completes the story of the Raven Boys and Blue, as well as their search for Glendower. Noah, the friendly ghost-friend, Ronan, with his powers in pulling objects from his dreams, Adam with his power to harness the energy of the ley lines, Blue the psychic’s daughter and Gansey, their fearless leader, face many challenges in finding Glendower.

Their quest has stretched out for a very lengthy period of time, and has taken a toll on many of the characters. However this quest for Glendower seems it may finally come to a close, though not without many obstacles and near-death experiences. One of which occurs when Gansey and his friends make a major blunder by awakening a demon which is set upon “unmaking” the world. Meanwhile, Cabeswater is in danger of dying due to a strange sickness. As black ooze drips out of the beloved trees of Cabeswater, Gansey and his friends become increasingly more concerned about the health of Cabeswater. Perhaps more terrifying, Adam, with his deep connection to Cabeswater, finds himself falling apart along with Cabeswater.

The quest to find Glendower becomes increasingly complex as new threats rear their ugly heads and time begins to run out. The final book closes the series with a dramatic flare as prophecies are tragically fulfilled and demons are fought. Additionally, during The Raven King, romantic relationships that were hinted at during the previous books are finally made official.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys adventurous books that involve the supernatural. The Raven King closes off the Raven Cycle with a fantastic ending that helps finish the Raven Boys’ story, while leaving an opening to other related books in the future (like Call Down the Hawk). All in all, highly recommended.

5 stars.

Teen Book Reviews: The Unhoneymooners and Eleanor & Park

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from someone who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren. Reviewed by Caroline O.

Meet Olive, a nerdy science loving girl who is shy and awkward. Olive has a twin, Ami, and even though they are total opposites, they still have an unbreakable bond. That is, until it is broken. Olive has the worst luck and everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. On the other hand, Ami gets everything to somehow go her way and she may be the luckiest person on Earth. Any contest that Ami has ever entered in, she has won, so it is no surprise when Ami wins a free, non-refundable honeymoon trip to Hawaii. This luck seems to last up until her wedding day when everyone that ate out of the free, buffet style meal that she won, gets food poisoning. Everyone, that is, except for Olive, who has food allergies, and Ethan, who is a germophobe and refuses to eat out of buffets.

Ami and her husband suggest that Olive and Ethan go on the trip together, since it is non-refundable and the newlyweds are too sick to go. This sounds like a great plan, besides the fact that Ethan and Olive hate each other! Not to mention that these two would have to act as if they had just gotten married. Ethan is the groom’s brother, who can come off as being cocky and arrogant. This was exactly Olive’s first impression of him when they met at a family event awhile back. With Ami being the pushy older twin that she is, Olive and Ethan reluctantly board the plane. Bickering of course. The trip is going somewhat smoothly until Ethan realizes he may not hate Olive as much as he thought.

This book is an amazing read, especially during the summertime. The author does an exceptional job at using imagery and emotional appeal to drag the reader further and further into the book. Not to mention that the book never gets old, and is never boring. The book starts and ends with pure chaos, which is unlike a lot of books that I have ever read. I personally like how the Christina Lauren duo writes their books. In their pieces, they tend to write at least an excerpt from every single character in the book, whether it is a small character or a main character.

5 stars.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Reviewed by Caroline O.

Eleanor & Park is a phenomenal book that captures the life of two characters, Eleanor and Park. Eleanor is someone who is not as comfortable in her body as most of her sixteen year old peers at school. Eleanor also has an unstable home life with an abusive step-father and a mother that has no control. Eleanor’s family is quite large, including her four little siblings, three of which are biological siblings and one step-brother. This does not seem to be an issue except for the fact that they live in a 2 bedroom apartment, meaning that all of the kids have to share a bedroom with one bath. On the nights that Richie, the step-dad, gets extra abusive and wakes up the kids, with the excessive crashing of objects getting thrown outside their bedroom, Eleanor has to sit there and comfort every one of them. To escape her reality, Eleanor loves to read, but this only makes her an outcast at school. Will she ever find somewhere safe where she can be herself?

Park lives down the street from Eleanor which means that they are on the same bus, where he notices and later meets Eleanor. Park finds that he is actually quite similar to Eleanor. Despite the differences in home life, they are both misfits in their school and begin to bond over that. Park begins to look forward to talking with Eleanor on the bus until there is a period of time when Eleanor does not come to school. This raises Park’s curiosity and he asks his parents if they have ever heard of her family since they had to have lived near each other. Both his parents look at each other and tell him how her house is not necessarily the safest place. Park immediately puts the pieces together and is determined to find her. Through this journey he learns that he may like her more than just in a friend way.

I enjoyed this book a lot because of how quickly the audience can feel as if they are there and in the same room as the characters. The book also is not a hard read, I have found that certain books can be hard to get into for the first few chapters, but this book is different. I was able to enjoy the story very early on in the book and it was upsetting to learn that there was not a sequel to go along with it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a romance novel that will take you through all of the emotions including guilt, happiness, sadness, and curiosity.

4 stars.

What the Stars Read

Do you ever wonder what the movie and TV stars read?

After too long a break, I traveled once again to a multi-media convention in the Baltimore area as both a panelist and guest, giving me unique opportunities to learn about books, movies, television, actors, and other forms of popular media.

Among the topics discussed were the interactions of cyberpunk (tech-heavy stories) and the modern world, stories that cross genres and copyright laws (Is there anyone Scooby Doo didn’t meet? Why is there a Terminator in Wayne’s World?), trends in speculative fiction (Lunarpunk, anyone?), and more. And those were only the ones I was able to attend.

The best part of such gatherings is meeting the guests of honor. Guests can change at any time due to filming schedules or illness (Robert Duncan McNeill was replaced at the last second by John Billingsley, a phenomenally entertaining actor in person, due to McNeill testing positive for Covid), but there are always a number of interesting people making appearances. This year, among many outstanding actors, the guests included Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck, The Last Ship) and Summer Glau (Firefly, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sequestered, Arrow), and I was able to speak with both of them.

Summer Glau has put acting on the back burner for the moment as she home-schools her children. She herself was home schooled due to an overriding love of ballet, and thus was able to pursue dance more in depth with the flexibility of home schooling, though she admits there are gaps in her learning. I asked her who her favorite authors were, and what she likes to read. Glau is a fan of Steinbeck, especially East of Eden, as well as the classic Russian novelists like Tolstoy, and of course Jane Austen. She prefers her children have a more classical education, and that includes classical literature. She’s been reading books on farming, with daydreams of someday having a small farm (she is originally from Texas).

Adam Baldwin was a delight (No, he is no relation to Alec Baldwin and brothers). At 23, he appeared in the classic Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket, which is one of my favorites, and we discussed different war films we had each seen. He told me to watch The War Machine with Brad Pitt, I told him to watch 9th Company, an excellent Russian film about their 1980 invasion of Afghanistan. We talked about the WWI epic 1917. Baldwin admits he never made it to college, going into acting by the age of 18. His favorite authors? He likes reading Michael Crichton‘s best sellers such as Congo and Sphere, as well as Tom Clancy, and classic Stephen King, such as The Shining. By his own tale, he informed Stanley Kubrick that his film adaption of the The Shining was not as good as the book, which didn’t put him into Kubrick’s favor (Stephen King has been rather vocal on how much he himself disliked the film, despite it being ranked among the greatest horror films of all time).

In public, actors are always answering questions about their work, things they’ve done or would like to do, or nitpicky trivial questions about a single line of dialogue from decades ago that they can’t remember. Finding out what they like to read is a question they haven’t heard a thousand times, and brings out different aspects of the person behind the tabloid reports. Actors are more than just the roles they play, and finding something in common with them reminds us that off camera, they are people just like us!

Teen Book Reviews: Warcross & Call Down the Hawk

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from two teens who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

Warcross by Marie Lu. Reviewed by Ella K.

Warcross is a book perfect for teens and young adults who enjoy science fiction and future societies. The story is set in a world where a young fourteen-year-old boy, Hideo Tanaka invents a pair of highly sophisticated virtual reality glasses called the NeuroLink. The glasses work by tricking the brain into thinking what it is seeing is real. In order to market the product, Tanaka also creates a video game that can be played within the virtual reality construct. This game, called Warcross, involves two teams battling to steal the other’s gem, called an Artifact, while avoiding a series of obstacles and the other team.

Emika Chen, a struggling hacker makes money in the only way that she can with her criminal record, as a bounty hunter. After failing to get a $5000 bounty that would have saved her from eviction, Emika turns to that fake reality to escape her problems. In the process, she accidentally hacks her way into the Warcross international tournament and makes the news worldwide. After this display of talent in hacking into one of the world’s most secure systems, Emika is invited by Hideo Tanaka himself to visit his headquarters in Japan. He offers her a ten million dollar reward to discover the identity of a hacker, nicknamed Zero, who he believes is a threat to the entire NeuroLink system. Emika has to use her hacking abilities, wit, and deception skills in order to remain undercover and thwart Zero.

The creation of this science fiction world is a shift away from the dystopian works that most know Marie Lu for, specifically her work in the Legend series. In this story, Lu showcases her writing and world building abilities by creating a world that many video game players dream of. The book’s plot is enticing outside of the new society that the reader gets to experience. While the betrayals and spy work that the reader gets to experience is captivating, the addition of a romance seems cliche in the midst of the situation that Emika finds herself in. It is well written, but Emika has been a powerful and independent person for most of her life. Her troubled childhood ensured it. Her interest in a powerful man takes away from that aspect of her character in a way. Overall, this hardly takes away from the book, and some readers, particularly those interested in romance, will enjoy the addition.

4 stars.

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater. Reviewed by Mia V.

Call Down The Hawk, the first book in the Dreamer Trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater, is a spin-off from the Raven Cycle series, following Ronan Lynch. The original Raven gang has all been split apart due to college, with Adam studying at Harvard, Gansey and Blue taking a gap year to travel and Ronan going off on his own. In the second book of the Raven Cycle, we find out that Ronan can pull objects and creatures (such as his pet raven, Chainsaw) out of his dreams. This power is incredibly rare and powerful, which makes Ronan vulnerable to being killed by those who don’t approve of his power or captured in order to make use of this power.

In Call Down The Hawk, however, Ronan’s power seems to be acting strange. Ronan feels as if he is dying if he is not near the ley lines, or the Barn at all times. Ronan also finds he is being hunted again, as threats loom from all different directions. Ronan meets other people with similar dreaming issues as himself, such as Jordan Henessey, who battles her own fears and nightmares which manifest themselves in real life due to her powers. As Ronan runs from those who want him dead, he also tries to help Hennessey deal with her own issues with her power. Call Down The Hawk takes a break from the search for Glendower and instead dives deeper into Ronan’s power and his own personal struggles both with himself and with his family.

I would definitely recommend this book. I would especially recommend it to someone who has read the Raven Cycle and has loved Ronan. Ronan was one of my favorite characters in the Raven Cycle, so I was very excited when Maggie Steifvater’s new Dreamer Trilogy was released and was set to focus more on Ronan. Although I was expecting the book to take a different direction, I still found the plot interesting and exciting.

4 stars.

Short Stuff

I’d like to read more, but I don’t have time to read a long, involved story.

There’s a solution for that. It’s called a short story.

 Short stories are those that can be read in under an hour – often not more than 5,000 words (beyond 7,500 is called a novella, and they are often published alone in little books, like Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption,  J.A. Jance’s The Old Blue Line, or Shirley Goodness and Mercy by Debbie Macomber) and they are often grouped together in anthology volumes, anthology meaning, literally, a collection of stories, the same way a CD album is a collection of individual songs.

Short stories are an art form of their own, still carrying the same structures of their longer novel cousins (plot, themes, metaphors, etc) but in a very short package. Some are complete stories (think of Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day, or Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery) while others might just give you a slice of life, a few hours in the life of an individual with no clear beginning and no clear end, leaving you to wonder what might come next (some stories by Anton Chekhov, or Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants). They can be happy or sad, comic or dramatic, or full of irony (The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant). Sometimes an anthology might consist of short stories on a single theme (love, loss, westerns, adventure), or they could be a mix of anything. And the beauty of an anthology is you can read one or two stories, or the whole thing, depending on your time and interest.

But short stories don’t carry the same weight as novels.

Of course they do! Many writers are known more for their short stories than for their novels – Alice Munro is considered one of the premier short story writers, having won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature in part for her short stories. Ray Bradbury is another prolific short-story writer, not quite horror, not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, just imaginative. His philosophy was to write one short story a week, because out of 52 short stories, you were bound to have three or four that were really good. Short stories are easier to sell, if not to anthologies then to magazines – many a writer got their start in The New Yorker, Collier’s, or Atlantic, let alone Good Housekeeping and Readers’ Digest. Some of the most popular authors – Isaac Asimov, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler – carved their name writing for pulp fiction magazines.

Short stories don’t always stay short, either. Many popular films started out as short stories – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (published in The New Yorker) (Did you realize this one takes place in Waterbury, Connecticut?), All About Eve, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 3:10 to Yuma, Shawshank Redemption, Minority Report, Brokeback Mountain, Rear Window, Total Recall, and many, many others.

A little story can go a long way. If you’re pressed for time, check out the stories in these collections, and more!

Best Short Stories of Jack London

Ray Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales

Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour, Vol. 4

Children of the Night: Best Short Stories by Black Writers

Dancing Through Life in a Pair of Broken Heels

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

Beautiful Days

Amish Front Porch Stories

Bring Out the Dog: Stories

Complete Stories of Edgar Allen Poe

Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers

20th Century Ghosts