Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Dream Thieves (Book 2 of The Raven Cycle)

Prior to reading this review, be sure to check out the review of the first book in The Raven Cycle, The Raven Boys, and read the book itself!

As mentioned in my review for the first book of the cycle, I downloaded this, the second book of the series, immediately after finishing the first. I had literally gotten to that 100% mark on my Kindle and was on the Kindle store downloading while texting a friend and raving about The Raven Boys. I figured that The Dream Thieves would go one of two ways: it would even be better and I'd love the cycle more or it would be less interesting as some books in a series tend to do.

When I began reading the book, I knew it would be more focused on Ronan--my least favorite character of the group. I stepped cautiously into the tale, so ready to be disappointed, annoyed, and frustrated that I would have to go through this entire book of Ronan just to get the overall story before proceeding to the third book. I was dreading it, really dreading it, despite that by the end of The Raven Boys I felt Ronan wasn't as bad as I felt in the start of the book.

Gosh, I'm glad I stuck with it and went in despite my prejudices toward him. I actually grew to like Ronan in this book, I began to appreciate him, and while his vileness irritates me every now and then, I can honestly say he's a favorite character of mine. It's definitely a "there's more than meets the eye" moment when reading this book, especially if you didn't enjoy Ronan in the previous one.

Ronan has many, many secrets but one of the bigger secrets is that his nightmares are real. Well, nearly. What he dreams has the ability to manifest in the outside world and this is a gift bestowed upon him by his father who is no longer with us. He has a gift to dream up something and take it to the world--imagine the power that can have. 

Unfortunately, Ronan (and now his friends) aren't the only people to know about his gift (or his father's) and that means danger for everyone he cares for. But it extends past that to the fast times of teenage angst and a rebellious, teen who also can make dreams reality. This makes one wonder, are there many more people like this? How does one become a dream thief? 

So while this story continues to move along, we do have a lot of focus on Ronan, his father's death, his dream thievery, and the dangers that lurk due to it. The other characters grow and develop as well, most certainly aren't forgotten, and we see how the events of the previous book have affected all. Noah comes and goes in his ghostly way but struggles, at times, to maintain a hold on the world. Adam is distant and at times mean, his sweet and shy personality almost crushed, as he deals with the deal he made to the magical realm that was discovered in the previous book. Blue's family is considerably more prominent and helpful, and she is her honest and strong self as ever (really, there are some scenes where I applaud because she literally will not put up with anyone's shit). Gansey is more well rounded and likable, not that he was horrible in the previous book, but in support of Blue's initial dislike of him, he grows as a person and I found myself carefully considering all he did.

This book has hit men who mean business and that is quite interesting in and of itself. Ronan's family is much more at the forefront which I really enjoyed and the ley lines, which run through the town and are the reason Gansey really focused his search for the Welsh king to that area, are awakened (thanks Adam!) and cause all sorts of problems.

Stiefvater continues to weave together words to create a beautiful, intricate web. Her descriptions are so on point and beautiful, even for the darkest of things (like the nightmares). The "finale" of this book is just a wide-eyed, wild ride. You feel for the team, everyone, especially Ronan. I had bloodshot eyes by the time I finished this book because I had so intently read through it without pause. I couldn't put it down, sleep before work be damned. Once more, I was left quickly downloading the third book to the cycle so that I could continue with this story as soon as possible. 

Last Week's Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Next Week's Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Raven Boys (Book 1 of The Raven Cycle)

I began to read The Raven Boys entirely because of Barnes and Noble. Well, to be more specific, it was because of an employee who wrote a recommendation: "It takes place in Virginia and has dead languages and Welsh kings!" Oh, well then, I suppose I'll take a look.

I poked around online for reviews and discovered that a fair number of people really enjoyed the book. Gaining further insight on what it's about, I decided to give the first book a try and downloaded it to my Kindle.

Allow me to begin with a little forewarning: If you begin this book and find it hard to follow or a little confusing -- stick with it! It gets better, I swear! Many reviews mentioned how the readers struggled with the start of the book and I was relieved to find that because I struggled as well. With all of the character introductions, switching of points of view, and character names to remember, I was struggling to keep up. I kept rereading sentences and thinking, "Am I too tired to be reading this? Why can't I follow it?" But only a little while later, that feeling had passed and I was fully submerged in the world of the raven boys.

Now that's out of the way, let's really get the review underway by clearing up a few things. The premise is that Blue, our pint-sized, opinionated and strong female character who befriends the raven boys, has discovered a few things: 1) That she will kill her true love with a kiss and 2) Richard Gansey III will either die by Blue's hand, or he is her true love. Immediately, some readers may sigh and roll their eyes, "Another YA love story? Really?" No! Stop that train of thought right now because there is so much more to this series than that. 

Blue comes from an elaborate family of strong females. They cover the spectrum of characteristics but are never in my mind labelled as weak. That's something I've really come to love as it's a great balance to the four raven boys that Blue befriends. Her family specializes in fortune telling and magic without the books dripping with scifi/fantasy feelings. The women seem very normal, they're people you may know, and they just so happen to be capable of telling fortunes.

Then we have the raven boys: four boys, all best friends, who attend Aglionby Academy--a rich, all-boys school nestled in the hills of Virginia. They are a group of their own, the students of this school. A touch of the rich and famous in a small town filled with people who were born there and would likely die there. 

Blue may be one of the locals but there is more of a bridge from the locals to the raven boys by means of Adam Parrish, a local who is driven by his need to escape the area for greater things and works hard to attend Aglionby and pay for the hefty tuition.

Beside Adam, we meet Noah, who is quiet and sweet. He's supportive, a little mysterious, but kind and yet... easily forgettable, or so it seems.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ronan Lynch, the resident jerk. To me, he was instantly unlikeable, and I continued to feel that way through most of the book. He had his reasons, sure, but most times I found him unbearable.

Lastly, there's Gansey. Handsome, rich, well-meaning but at times oblivious to his position and how he treats others -- he immediately gets off on the wrong foot with Blue. Still, he is passionate and what brings us here today. Gansey is in search of a dead Welsh king who, according to documents, might have been buried in the hills of Virginia. The person who finds him and wakes him will be able to grant a wish. You'd assume Gansey, this rich guy, is being particularly greedy but again--there's more than meets the eye.

Along with Adam, Ronan, Noah and Blue, they join Gansey to search for this king. Simple enough, right? Not really.

We are introduced to ghosts, wishes, tarot readings and magical words. Things shape up to be magical but not so much that you have to stretch your belief. It's still believable, and that's the fun of it. I can still picture this happening near my home. I can still picture this being true. But what really stuck out about this book and the series, for me, are the relationships and characteristics of each character. I've never read a YA book I could identify with so strongly. Not the outer layer; character appearances, voices, or the things they do (i.e., interests), but the internal realm--their drive to do something, the way personal tragedy affects them. My goodness, I would put the book down and catch myself thinking about a character (namely Adam) and realize "wow, I'm just like him." In many ways, it was eye opening, because you see the characters at their most raw and it's identifiable.

Not everything is magical adventures for the group. Quickly enough, the group is brought to face issues anyone would rather avoid, such as child abuse or, you know, murder. 

Paired with Stiefvater's expressive writing, I was fully immersed in the world of the characters and at times was left feeling like I had just read poetry. While the book begins with the romantic destiny of Blue, I feel that the true focus isn't her relationship with any one boy, but the friendship of the group as a whole. Their relationship with one another makes the group unified and hard to ignore.

Also? As a now-Virginia resident (three years strong) but a country girl at heart (I live near DC--where Gansey's family calls home, but my heart is most content away from the city) I'm so happy to read the tiny details of Virginia springtime that makes this state so beautiful.

As soon as I finished this book, I downloaded the next in the series. I couldn't put it down and I needed more. I needed a fix.

Last Week's Review: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
Next Week's Review: Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Reading Nook -- Laura

My Reading Nook, a feature from Soon Remembered Tales, gives readers a chance to show off their favorite place to read.

What's your reading nook?

My book nook isn't tidy or necessarily beautiful, but it represents a place of sanctuary to me. It's where I can rest, and reflect, and most importantly read. Reading is a huge part of my life. I've always been a reader. I did my masters degree in language, because I'm so fascinated by the written and spoken word, and also speak Hebrew. Reading is not just my hobby and something I greatly enjoy, but, like for many people, it is an escape. Even if I'm not reading fiction (I often read books for work on PHP, SEO and HTML), I'm escaping out of my head. I have a recurrent illness where I get clusters of adenoma in my parotid, so I get sick every 1-2 years. That's why my book nook is so important to me. It's a place where I don't take my worries about surgery, radiotherapy, medications and pain. 

Why is the nook special?

It is, as I said above, a place to escape all the things that at any one time are going around in my head. My bed is another place I read. I won't have a TV in the bedroom, so it's a light, quiet space where I'm totally comfortable. This is where I go when I'm really sick, and need some peace and quiet.

About You: 

I work as a Digital Marketing Executive, and am absolutely obsessed with languages. During my uni years I learned Hebrew, Tibetan and Latin. Now I'm learning HTML, CSS and PHP. I spend my working days playing with code and managing the company website, and my mummy time with my beautiful daughter, partner and as many friends as I can fit in a day. 

Twitter: @LauraWild84

Interested in sharing your own reading nook? Take a look at the My Reading Nook tab for more information!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Travels with Charley

Like most Americans with a high school diploma, I have memories of being assigned John Steinbeck books and hating it. It was an immediate reaction--I hated being forced to read books in school. I liked the element of choice and missed the days of decision-making, along with book reports, shoe-box dioramas, and Book-It (do any of you remember Book-It?!)

Once in high school, we were stuck with new monsters, especially in the honors courses, that went by the name of summer reading. The positive side to this was that I could pick my readings from a list that resulted in less foaming of the mouth. The negative side was, obviously, that I was being forced to do homework during summer vacation. While that was something I despised, these summer assignments provided some of my most steadfast reading memories from high school. Amongst these is John Steinbeck. I read Of Mice and Men in high school and... enjoyed it. I went into an assigned reading of The Pearl and didn't enjoy it as much. Steinbeck was always going to be in my mind as a school assignment author. Someone who used a lot of words to detail simple things of which I had to write about its themes and symbolism. I wasn't at all surprised when I found out the name Steinbeck left a nasty taste in the mouths of friends, too.

But now I am an adult who can make the decision of what I want to read. While in Northern California, where Steinbeck left his mark, I went on a small book-buying spree. Cannery Row was purchased at the Monterey Aquarium (which was the site of a former cannery) and Travels with Charley was picked up in San Francisco at City Lights

Travels with Charley was a complete break from the Steinbeck I was familiar with. I may have read his books but I knew very little about him. This ended up being a crash-course on who John Steinbeck was as a person and I found I really liked him. The book not only was easy to read, but didn't remind me of a school assignment at all.

Surprisingly, I found myself openly laughing while reading this book--particularly whenever Steinbeck wrote about his dog, Charley. The little annoyances of having a dog are put into detail and I found myself laughing over the antics of Steinbeck's furry friend. He often stole the show and, for me, made the book.

The plot is simple enough--after buying a camper of sorts, Steinbeck sets out to drive cross-country with his dog. Steinbeck recounts his journey through details of what sights he saw and more specific story telling of particular events that happened during that year. There's a lot of discussion of politics in a time that I'm not entirely familiar with, but it's something I feel my parents and grandmother would appreciate to read. Steinbeck reflects about older products that worked well and were then being sold at a great price as antiques, he pondered over what the future would hold and how the earth would be presented to our future offspring.

Many of his thoughts, just meandering and otherwise, could so easily be applied for the present day. The friendliness of people and easy allowance they give to a stranger parking on their land in what is ultimately an RV is, for me, the biggest indication of how times have changed from the time this book was written to the present day. I can't imagine many people being willing to let a stranger park on their land overnight.

The copy I purchased, Penguin's Steinbeck Centennial Edition, was absolutely beautiful. It's certainly one of the prettier books I've bought recently, both inside and out.

This book gave me a look to the past of America and a better understanding of John Steinbeck as a person. He is still a bit of that English-reading-assignment author that I viewed him as for so many years, but now I see him more as a person than an assignment, and I'm hopeful to read more of his books in the future with this new view of him.

Last Week's Review: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
Next Week's Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Natural Bridge Park and Historic Hotel

Where: Natural Bridge, Virginia
When: Summer 2014

When my friend invited me to her wedding in Natural Bridge, after the initial excitement of going to a wedding and seeing if I had that weekend free, I also thought "Wait, where is this?" 

Since 2012, I have lived in Northern Virginia and rarely have I adventured further into the state. Virginia is pretty big compared to the small area of Northern Virginia and it feels like a completely different world. Northern Virginia is filled with the fast paced employees of Washington, DC. There's the sense of political expertise and plenty of fancy cars. Starbucks are on every corner and people are all about socializing at posh coffee shops and bars. There's even a video that pretty accurately describes the area (although it specifically focuses on Arlington). But the rest of Virginia? The rest of Virginia is something I'm much more familiar with and I find I'm more comfortable. Rolling hills, farmlands, and a driving distance to reach the nearest clothing store. So, once I googled where Natural Bridge was, I was ready to go. 

The first fault of our trip was that we left just at sunset after a full day of work and visiting with friends who were moving. It was a long drive made longer due to how tired we were and yet, it was nice, because the hot summer sun had set and we were able to enjoy the slightly-cooler nighttime temps. With bathroom, gas and food stops, it took us three hours to get to Natural Bridge and by that time we were exhausted.

And yet, I suspect there will always be an "and yet" with this post, we were introduced to Natural Bridge the moment we stepped out of my car, tired, red-eyed (at least I was from falling asleep with my contacts in), and only dimly outlined by the low lights of the front steps to the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel. 

The full moon hung in the sky with wisps of clouds scattered around it, creating an eerie blue glow to the world and highlighting the mountains in the distance and low-lying mist. 

Then we heard it.

Far off in the darkness, an angry moo. There were obviously farms nearby.

But off we went to get our room and startle the receptionist who stared at my bloody red eyes long enough to clue me in that something was wrong. I found out once we were in the elevator and saw just how bloodshot my eyes had become from the drive. Oops. 

The hotel is a large, old building and with no WiFi that reaches anywhere past the main lobby. Cell reception is also nil as you are, quite literally, in the middle of no where. This was a problem for us only in that friends where trying to reach me to ask for directions or places to change (as they were driving in for the wedding then leaving) and I had no idea that they were attempting to get ahold of me until two days later after we had left. This may be a problem for some, but I did enjoy the radio silence from the outside world. Also, as a note, we were informed by the staff that they intended to do some remodeling during the winter to upgrade their WiFi capabilities, but I would still double-check if you are unable to take a break from the internet during your stay!

Our room was spacious with a number of old pieces of furniture. Even the TV was quite old, but still in working order. We had two full-sized beds and managed to squeeze into one (the beau and I). One of my favorite features is that there were two sinks. One inside the bathroom and one outside. This way when the beau was getting ready in the bathroom, I had my own sink and mirror to use. 

It was relatively quiet and I didn't hear much noise from other rooms or the hallway. We were so exhausted, I don't know if we would have been capable of hearing much! By the next morning we woke up ready and eager for the day.

The hotel serves brunch and special dinners. While we missed the dinners, we hit up the brunch and oh my goodness. I have never had a better scone than the scones I ate at the Natural Bridge Hotel. You guys, they were to die for. I am salivating just writing about it. I took extra scones with me when we were done with brunch because they were that good. Just... delicious. So delicious. I would order the scones from them and have them shipped to my house if at all possible. And you know how good they were? So good that I didn't even think to take a photo of them because I was too busy stuffing my face. 

Honestly, I believe the rest of the breakfast was great but I don't remember any of the details about it other than it having been eaten because I spent so much time devouring scones.

Afterward, we got ready for the wedding and made our way to the infamous Natural Bridge!

Natural Bridge has a great deal of history. Not only is it absolutely beautiful and overwhelming when you're in the presence of it, but it has a lot of American history tied to it. The Monacan tribe held it as a sacred site and believed it had ties to a victory from the Powhatan tribe long before Europeans began investigating the area. George Washington visited the bridge and surveyed it, and later on Thomas Jefferson purchased the land. Jefferson made it a place to retreat to for vacations and his descendants had the lodgings grow in size to accommodate more visitors. There is now a push to make the park and hotel a state park and vacation destination. I certainly feel this landscape should have the attention it deserves and the protection from being labeled a state park.

But that's not all! This is a bookish place and has made its way into the hearts of many. Not only are there some really beautiful paintings of the bridge, but the bridge is mentioned in Herman Melville's Moby Dick:

But soon the fore part of him slowly rose from the water; for an instant his whole marbleized body formed a high arch, like Virginia's Natural Bridge, and warningly waving his bannered flukes in the air, the grand god revealed himself, sounded, and went out of sight.

The wedding, as are most weddings at the park, took place under the bridge with the guests seated on the hill/walkway leading up into the woods. For the wedding itself, they made a side path for visitors to pass through without interrupting the wedding, but most visitors paused and watched the wedding from the side.

The wedding reception was at the hotel and a ton of fun. The establishment was great, the hotel staff pleasant, and it was a great time. We bid most of the wedding guests adieu toward the end of the night as the world grew dim again, then headed to the Red Fox Tavern (on site of the hotel) to have after-wedding drinks with friends.

Looking to the mountains where the phantom cow lives.

The Red Fox Tavern was a lot of fun. The atmosphere is quite literally what I would expect of a tavern. Deep browns, comfy chairs, and drinks to go around. It closed a little too early for my liking but I found I was more tired than I had expected and off we went to sleep. I had dreams of the following morning's would-be scones (but they weren't served and I was heartbroken).

After saying goodbye to our friends and checking out of the hotel, the beau and I headed back to the park so that we could investigate it more -- this time without heels and dress clothes. The day began gray and muggy and turned into a blistering hot day which is common for Virginia summers.

The pathway to the bridge.

It should be noted that while there is a stream running along pretty much all of the pathways that you can take, there aren't many chances to get water or use a bathroom. There's a lot of tree cover to keep you mostly out of the sunshine, but that doesn't matter when the temperatures climb up to uncomfortable heights. I have a tendency to faint in the heat as my body doesn't know how to function when it's constantly in muggy, hot weather. We, somehow, remembered to bring a few bottles of water with us (we hadn't planned to originally because the pathway isn't too long nor rigorous) but ended up going through all the water quickly as I grew faint. 

So what I'm saying is, if it's going to be hot, plan a little better than I did.

Cedar Creek

Still, the sites were beautiful. The bridge is out of this world and the stream beds are beautiful with a blue-green, clear water. At the end of the path is Lace Falls which weren't very lacey when we visited due to the hot weather and low rain totals from the summer.

Lace Falls

Now, if you plan to walk these paths, not only do I urge you to come prepared (water, snacks, whatever else) but wear appropriate shoes! The pathway is bumpy and rough to walk on. When we were at the bridge for the wedding, we were all teetering around in heels and wishing we had opted for flats. It's a lot of uneven surfaces. Also? Make sure your camera or phone is charged so that you can get as many photos as you can! I ended up missing out on more because my battery was near death.

Having grown up in the Catskill Mountains, I love the woods. I adore tree cover and rolling hills. I find peace in nature and I found peace here. We were far away from the world, despite being surrounded by other tourists, and it was lovely. Had we not plans to get home and ready for the work week, or possibly a better wardrobe for hiking about, I would have liked to stay longer. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

First Frost

Just after I graduated from college, I was given an unexpected summer break. The economy was crashing, I had no job experience, and I was burned out from the previous sixteen years of school, four of which I studied English and had no free time to pleasure read. I was hungry for pleasure reads but was oblivious to the current book market as I had been pulled out of it for so long. A friend suggested Garden Spells and once I had it shipped to my house, I devoured it and quickly placed it on my mental "favorite reads" shelf. Since that summer, I have read each book that Sarah Addison Allen has released and I have always come away feeling warm, comfortable and content.

I knew First Frost was coming out and planned to buy it. I had heard about the book, from the cover reveal and beyond, but then work and school carried me away, and before I knew it, spring had arrived and the book had been out for awhile. Oops. To my Kindle it was downloaded and quickly it was read -- a treat for myself while I was finishing up my final for a class.

I'm ashamed to say I didn't write much about Garden Spells, which is the precursor to this book. The blog entry was quick and didn't really dive into how much I hold that book to my heart. What I love about Sarah Addison Allen is that she writes about real life people but with a spark of magic tied in. It's not enough to label her books as fantasy or scifi, but it's all still curious stuff and happenings that one wouldn't--necessarily--find in the real world. I love this, I love this tie of regular life with something more special. I feel that the world does have magic if you know how to look for it and that Sarah applies that to her books.

Garden Spells is one of my favorite books by the author, but this book is coming up right behind it. I enjoy all of her books but I think I have a special place for the Waverley family. If you haven't read Garden Spells, do so now and wait to read this post, as everything past this point will be spoilers.

The Waverley family all has special gifts which, one could say, are regular senses and talents heightened in real life with a splash of magic. Claire can cook recipes that have a great impression on the people who eat them, Sydney has a way about doing hair that gives the boost of confidence (or any other feeling) to the person getting their hair done, and Bay (Sydney's daughter) simply knows where things are meant to be.

While the first book focused a great deal on Claire and Sydney (sisters) crashing into each other's lives once more and rebuilding their relationship, it also focuses on the acceptance both sisters needed to have of each other and themselves; this book moves past that by ten years and sees everyone a little older, a little wiser, and much more comfortable in what they call home.

Bay, the adorable little girl from the previous book, is now a teenager which took me a little getting used to. I mean, it happens, and it was that slow understanding of anyone who knows a little kid that suddenly grows up. It's an adjustment to realize that the child is now a teen--and it's great that these books create such relationships between reader and character that you even have to adjust to one of the characters growing up. Claire is running a candy-making business and Sydney has her beauty shop. Everything's great for the Waverley's, they're doing well, but they also find themselves a little off center. They can't complain about life, generally speaking, but each find there is something they are both missing.

Claire is making bank with her candy company but misses catering and cooking. The whole family silently agrees, because who wouldn't miss Claire's cooking? Sydney is desiring a child with her new husband but can't seem to conceive, and Bay is finding herself amongst high school drama and her first heartache.

There is a lot of emphasis focusing on the first frost of the year, a magical time for the Waverley family where things seem to be a little off-putting until the first frost arrives and everything is set right again. So while the previously mentioned issues loom large, there are other problems that show their ugly faces as well.

What I enjoyed about this book is that while I was wrapping up finals and a month-long haul of important documents for work, I was able to escape to the pretty town and garden of the Waverley's home. The issues the characters face are all very understandable issues that we all will face in some form, they're issues we as people can identify with, and none are too stressful. When I'm coming down from a high-stress month, I don't want to read a drama-ridden book, I don't want suspenseful, I want something that's pleasant and ends on a good note.

These books always make me feel happy and it's what I needed.

As always, I loved First Frost and I expected nothing less--I've enjoyed every book of Sarah's! I'm uncertain if there will be more books focusing on the Waverley family but I hope there are. I feel a little like I'm coming home when I read about them and their world. It ignites the specific sense of childhood in the Catskill mountains, of farms and making pies, of the magic I felt my childhood always possessed. And that's nice. It's nice to be reminded of simpler times and read a book that makes you feel good about yourself and First Frost did exactly that.

Last Week's Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
Next Week's Review: Travels with Charley by John Steineck