Young Adult Series: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,’ Neeve said. ‘Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.’
― Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys is the first book in The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Stiefvater has created a gorgeously written world for her characters that will leave you wanting to learn more. She leaves hints in books that you pick up later that will leave you wondering at the way that Stiefvater constructs these books.

Blue Sargent has grown up in a family of clairvoyants. For as long as she can remember, her house has been full to bursting with random cousins, aunts, and friends of her mothers who all have some version of clairvoyance. Blue, however, doesn’t have any abilities. Instead she is like a battery – she makes other people’s talents stronger. Blue amplifies the powers of others. That’s why her mother takes her with to the churchyard on St Mark’s Eve to note the names of the soon-to-be dead walking past. In that freezing churchyard, Blue meets Gansey for the first time and her life is changed.

Blue discovers that Gansey is one of the rich students who attends Aglionby, a local private school. She has no desire to learn what is going to happen to that Raven Boy, what they call the Aglionby Boys, as her association with them can only mean trouble.

Despite her declaration to stay away from Gansey and the other Raven Boys, their paths continue to cross. When Blue realizes that Gansey is more than his good looks and family money, she finds herself drawn into a quest that has consumed Gansey and his friends for years. The problem: for as long as she can remember, Blue has been told that she will cause her true love to die. If she kisses her true love, he will die. This has never been an issue for Blue until she starts hanging around with the Raven Boys. Their life is strange and sinister and full of more mystery than she ever thought possible.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Raven Cycle series

  1. The Raven Boys (2012)
  2. The Dream Thieves (2013)
  3. Blue Lily, Lily Blue (2014)
  4. The Raven King (2016)
  5. Opal (2018) – a novella that takes place after the events of The Raven King

Related to The Raven Cycle series, Stiefvater has written the Dreamer Trilogy which delves more into Ronan Lynch:

  1. Call Down the Hawk (2019)
  2. Mister Impossible (2021)
  3. Greywaren (2022)

‘The Ex Hex’ by Erin Sterling

“Never mix vodka and witchcraft.”
― Erin Sterling, The Ex Hex

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling is the story of a scorned lover who demands revenge, albeit while drunk and in a way that she didn’t think would actually come to fruition. Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones was a young witch nursing a freshly broken heart. She tried to heal it the best way she (and her cousin) knew how: a bubble bath, vodka, sad music, and a curse on her horrible ex-boyfriend. Vivi and her cousin knew they shouldn’t mix vodka and witchcraft, but her broken heart wanted vengeance. After all, they cast their curse using an orchard hayride scented candle – that’s an utterly ridiculous candle to curse someone with, so the two thought nothing of it and moved on. At best, they thought he would have a couple minor inconveniences and that’s it, no grievous bodily harm or anything.

Flash forward nine years and Rhys Penhallow, the breaker of Vivi’s heart, is on his way back to Graves Glen, Georgia. Rhys is one of the descendants of the town’s ancestors. His presence is necessary to recharge the town’s ley lines and to put in an obligatory appearance at the annual fall festival. The minute Rhys is within the town’s limits though, disaster strikes. As soon as he recovers from one issue, another one happens. It soon becomes apparent to Vivi and Rhys that her long ago hex isn’t quite as harmless as she thought it would be.

After a particularly disastrous incident, the two realize that Graves Glen is under attack. The magic has begun to rebel and the supposedly harmless ex hex may lay at the root of all of their problems. Vivi and Rhys must work together to find a way to save the town and to counteract and/or destroy the ex hex before everything they know and love is destroyed.

This book is also available in the following format:

Romance Reads: Witches of Thistle Grove series by Lana Harper

‘That was the thing about growing up with magic. Until you left it behind for good, you had no idea how incredible it felt just to be around it.’ – Lana Harper, Payback’s a Witch

Over the last year, I have noticed an increase in paranormal witchy romances, so naturally I decided to read some! My latest adventure into this genre was the first in the Witches of Thistle Grove series by Lana Harper titled Payback’s a Witch. I found this title to be uniquely engaging and full of world-building, yet not overwhelming with the amount of information given.

Emmy Harlow is back in Thistle Grove. After leaving this magical town right after high school, she never though she’d be back. Harlow may be a witch, but she’s not a very powerful one. The time she has spent away from Thistle Grove, plus the physical distance separating her from the town, has depleted her magic. Her exile from her family has been self-imposed due to a complicated relationship with her family, her family history, and relationships with her peers. Emmy has always wanted to forge her own destiny that had nothing to do with being a Harlow witch in Thistle Grove. Add in a nasty breakup with Gareth Blackmoor when she was in high school and Emmy was drawn to leave quicker than she had planned. After all, Gareth is the heir to the most powerful magical family in town. He oh so casually shattered her dreams and broke her heart without a second thought. She had to leave.

Flash forward: Emmy is back in Thistle Grove to perform her family’s role as arbiter in a spellcasting tournament held every fifty years. A massive guilt trip from her family and the lure of tradition was enough to bring her back. Emmy’s plan is to do her duty as arbiter, spend time with her best friend Linden Thorn, and then immediately leave to head back to her life in Chicago. The universe has other plans.

On her first night back in town, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov at a local bar. Talia is another heir to a different magical family who practices darker magic. She is also fresh off a bad breakup of sorts with Gareth Blackmoor. It turns out that Gareth was also dating Emmy’s best friend Linden, at the same time he was messing around with Talia – with both women not realizing the either was in a relationship with him! Scandal! Linden and Talia want revenge on Gareth and believe that with Emmy they can finally get back at him for what he has done to all three. Emmy has to decide if she wants in and if so, what the plan should be. Add in friend drama and romantic drama between the three and Emmy’s short trip home becomes even more complicated than she originally hoped.

This book is also available in the following format:

Witches of Thistle Grove series

  1. Payback’s a Witch (2021)
  2. From Bad to Cursed (2022)
  3. Back in a Spell (2023)

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

“I would not let a man who knew the value of nothing make me doubt the value of myself.”
― Jennifer Saint, Ariadne

Jennifer Saint grew up reading Greek mythology. This is never more apparent than when you look at the books she has written. Her first book, Ariadne, and her second book, Elektra, tell the stories of Greek heroines. If you like Circe or Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, definitely check these out as Jennifer writes about the stories hidden within the myths.

Ariadne is Jennifer’s debut novel. This tells the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur told from the perspective of Ariadne and her sister Phaedra, both daughters of King Minos. Ariadne grew up as a Princess of Crete, dancing from dawn to dusk on a gorgeous floor made by the prized architect/craftsman Daedalus. She has heard the stories of gods and heroes all her life and witnessed their wrath and desire firsthand. After all, below Crete lurks Ariadne’s family’s shameful secret. For beneath the palace roams Ariadne’s brother, the Minotaur, a beast who demands blood sacrifice every year secured through a deal organized through King Minos as a way to avenge the death of one of his sons. This blood sacrifice demands fourteen humans shipped from Athens around the harvest. The people of Athens have grown to despise Crete and their ruler, none so much as Theseus, Prince of Athens.

One day, Theseus arrives as one of the blood sacrifice. Ariadne quickly falls under his spell and realizes that Theseus has instead come to vanquish the beast and free his people. Deciding to defy the gods and betray her family and country, Ariadne helps Theseus on his dangerous mission to kill the Minotaur. Her decision has far-reaching consequences beyond just herself. Will her betrayal of all she knows lead her to happiness or does Theseus have other plans? After she leaves Crete, what will become of Phaedra, her younger sister? Ariadne’s future changes the second she lays eyes on Theseus, but only the gods truly know one’s destiny no matter what we plan. The author explores these forgotten women of Greek mythology and their desire to make the world a better place.

Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

Lauren Blackwood is a Jamaican American writer who writes romance-heavy fantasy. Her debut young adult novel, Within These Wicked Wallsdefinitely falls into that category. This fantasy novel is a New York Times bestseller as well as Reese Witherspoon’s Fall 2021 Young Adult book club pick.

“If I look at all the bad in my life along with the good, the bad would bury the good in a landslide. My spirit, my will to live, would shrivel and die. So, instead, I choose to be thankful for what little good I have.”
― Lauren Blackwood, Within These Wicked Walls

Within These Wicked Walls is a young adult fantasy novel that has definite horror elements.  Andromeda is a debtera without a license. Debtera are exorcists hired by households to cleanse them of the Evil Eye. Her mentor, however, threw her out before she was able to earn her license, leaving Andromeda to scrounge for work. Her only option is to find a patron and she has her eyes set on a job that has proven deadly. Andromeda wants Magnus Rochester, a handsome young heir, to be her patron. He is a rich, well-connected person who, if she completes this job, will be able to vouch for her abilities to other potential clients.

The downside: Magnus is rude and demanding  with a long list of rules that must be followed. He’s also eccentric in ways that don’t make sense until Andromeda gets to know him. The more time Andromeda spends in the house, the more she realizes that this job is nothing like anything she has ever done before. There are manifestations throughout the house, some benign while others are horrifying. While Andromeda works to cleanse the house, she discovers that Magnus is hiding more than she has ever been trained for. Death may be the only option to free the house, but Andromeda is determined to rid the house of evil before any more innocent blood is shed.

This book is also available in the following format:

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

‘What the Collective doesn’t understand is by honoring the past, our ancestors, our cultures—and remembering our mistakes—we become better.’ – Donna Barba Higuera, The Last Cuentista  

Donna Barba Higuera’s newest book, The Last Cuentista, flew to the top of my to-read list when I saw the list of 2022 ALA Youth Media Award WinnersThe Last Cuentista is the 2022 Newberry Award winner for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature. Donna Barba Higuera was also the 2022 recipient for the Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Award. This book is a top contender for my favorite read of 2022.

The Last Cuentista tells the story of a journey through stars to save humanity as we know it, told through the eyes of a young girl named Petra Peña who longs to be a storyteller like her abuelita. Her parents have hopes that she will be a scientist like them. Petra’s dreams are put on hold when the government realizes that there is a comet heading straight towards Earth that will destroy the planet and all life that lives there. Only a few hundred scientists and their children have been selected to evacuate Earth and head to a new planet named Sagan, where they have determined that people can safely live. Petra and her family are among the chosen few. The only hitch in this plan: it will take them hundreds of years to travel there.

The scientists and their children will be put to sleep while Monitors will watch over them and make sure the ship runs smoothly. While they are sleeping, they will be programmed with different informational courses that will allow them to wake up with all the information they will need to survive on Sagan.

Hundreds of years later, Petra awakens on the ship only to discover that she is the only person who remembers Earth. The Collective has taken over the ship and has hatched a new plan to control, essentially, everything. Their desire is to erase all the sins of humanity’s past. They have purged the memories of all those onboard. If they were unable to purge the memories, they eliminated the person altogether. Petra alone carries all the memories of the past. She isn’t quite sure what to do as having that knowledge puts her life in danger. Petra must find a way to save herself and the stories she carries within.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

“Everyone loses their way at some point, and it’s not just because of their mistakes or the decisions they make. It’s because they’re horribly, wonderfully human. And the one thing I’ve learned about being human is that we can’t do this alone. When we’re lost, we need help to try to find our way again.” – T.J. Klune, Under the Whispering Door

Under the Whispering Door was an incredibly powerful read that had me feeling a wide variety of emotions. (If you haven’t read The House in the Cerulean Sea by Klune, you should do that too – check out Anna’s blog to learn more about it). Klune sprinkled so many profound nuggets of wisdoms throughout this book that I still find myself thinking about it days after finishing.

Wallace Price is troubled. He spends his entire life at the office trying to understand why people behave the way they do. As a lawyer, Wallace craves order. His life changes when he wakes up at his own funeral. When a woman approaches him and says that she is a reaper come to collect him, he is confused and outraged. First of all, he can’t be dead. Secondly, there is only a handful of people at his funeral. Utterly ridiculous.

The reaper takes him to Charon’s Crossing, a slightly irregular tea shop. It sits on the outskirts of a small village off the beaten path that runs through the mountainous woods. Hugo, the owner, is there to help Wallace in any way he can. He works as a ferryman who helps souls cross over.

The more time Wallace spends time at the tea shop talking with Hugo and the others, the more Wallace thinks he might actually be dead. He isn’t ready to abandon his life just yet though. He didn’t actually live his life to the fullest. Wallace spent his time alive at work, but he spends his time dead really living: joking with the others at the tea shop, manifesting new clothing, and noticing the stars with Hugo. Just as Wallace settles into a comfortable rhythm however, the all-powerful Manager descends upon Charon’s Crossing with a deadline that will change them all forever.

This book is available in the following formats:

Did You Know It Was a Book First? The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski

I love comparing books to their TV or movie adaptations – ask me about The Devil Wears Prada sometime. Right now, as the new season of The Witcher launches on Netflix, I’m reflecting on my recent read of The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, the book which first introduced Geralt of Rivia to the world – and eventually rocketed him to fame in video games and now as played by Henry Cavill. Here’s my breakdown of this iconic fantasy franchise, then and now.

ON THE PAGE

I expected a much darker, gritter fantasy than this actually turned out to be. This first book, The Last Wish, acts as a series of short vignettes as highly-trained and lightly superpowered Geralt goes on his adventures fighting monsters for money, and in fact most of these vignettes read as retellings of classic fairy tales. I identified, among others, one like Snow White and one like Beauty and the Beast, both of which seem to echo the source material with wry humor and a good dose of feminist reality check. Along the way, interspersed chapters start to hint at a larger story to come, linked to Geralt’s history with sorceress Yennefer – who’s finally introduced in the book’s final story revealing how Geralt and Yennefer first met. Important themes include what makes a monster, lesser vs. greater evils, and the losses in lifestyle and belonging that happen as society changes. While obviously standing apart from the rest of society, Geralt is very human and sympathetic, and his good friend Dandelion adds even more lightness and humor.

ON THE SCREEN

The show (currently only available on Netflix, and not on DVD or Blu-Ray) takes full advantage of its medium to expand as much as possible – Yennefer gets her own dose of screen time instead of only being seen from Geralt’s perspective, and Geralt’s backstory including his childhood is explored in much more detail. Geralt himself, however, is much less talkative in the show than in the books, which may be because in a visual medium, more nonverbal communication is possible. Another obvious change is one in translation – in the books Geralt’s troubadour friend is identified as Dandelion, but on the show they kept his Polish name, Jaskier, which actually literally translates to ‘buttercup’ in English. And of course, because The Last Wish functions more as an introductory book than a plot-driven one, the stories in the show are also from later books than the one I read, and expand more on various battles and events. In the interest of full disclosure, I drew most of these insights from others’ perspectives, as at the time of writing I haven’t yet seen enough of the show to comment.

Speaking for myself, I think I’ll enjoy both equally as each uses their medium to full advantage; I prefer a chatty, relatable Geralt but I love the idea of showing Yennefer’s perspective and keeping Dandelion’s original name. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more books in this series and catching up with the show. If you’re into fantasy that’s exciting but not too heavy, I recommend reading The Last Wish for a bit of adventure, or at least background context for your next binge-watching session.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

“It was no Mercury dime New York moon, but a harvest moon brought all the way from the wheat fields of North Dakota to shine with sweet benevolence down on the chosen and the beautiful.”

Among all of the works to enter the public domain this past year (due to having been published before 1925), one of the most well-known is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. As a part of the public domain, this classic is now available for authors to use freely in retellings, which is exactly what Nghi Vo does in her latest work, The Chosen and the Beautiful. As someone who has always enjoyed reading the original, my interest was immediately piqued, and I am excited to share more about this title with all of you.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fitzgerald’s original work, The Great Gatsby is set over the course of one summer during the Roaring Twenties on Long Island (New York) and primarily revolves around Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man of great wealth, and Daisy Buchanan, a beautiful socialite he falls in love with before going off to war. Taking place a few years after their initial meeting, this book picks up with Daisy having married a wealthy and unfaithful husband (Tom Buchanan) and Nick Carraway, Daisy’s distant cousin and narrator of the story, moving to Long Island from Minnesota to work in bonds. Little does either Nick or Daisy know that the former moves next door to the lavish and excessive mansion belonging to Gatsby and that, before long, Nick would play a key role in reuniting Daisy and Gatsby once again.

Another major character in this story is Jordan Baker, a renowned and opulent golfer who is also one of Daisy’s best childhood friends. In this retelling, Vo explores this story from Jordan’s perspective as a queer, Asian socialite who was adopted from Vietnam and brought to the United States at a very young age. Through her eyes, you are privy not only to more of Daisy’s backstory, but to a brand new literary voice experiencing the societal norms of the ’20s at a remove, as Jordan is often “othered” within their shared social circles as Daisy’s charming and exotic friend. In addition to this major change from the original narrative, this retelling also has magical elements incorporated into it, technically making it a science fiction novel set within the glittering excess of the Jazz Age.

All in all, I think this is a very interesting retelling that presents a powerful new literary voice, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Vo’s version of Jordan Baker. While I did find myself becoming lost in the magical components at times, as they seemed a bit random and scattered throughout, I think this was, in part, due to Vo’s diligence in adhering to Fitzgerald’s original account pretty closely. While the transformation of Jordan’s character and her insight were more than enough for a satisfying retelling for me, I think I would have enjoyed the science fiction aspects more if Vo had deviated further from the script and reimagined more of the story, as opposed to just retelling it.

In the end, I would still recommend this novel to both those who have or haven’t read the original, as this new perspective definitely adds to the timeless themes in Fitzgerald’s original, while simultaneously bringing the story up to speed in the 21st century. I also fully intend on reading any future retellings and reimaginings of Fitzgerald’s work, as I am sure there will be many more coming down the pike with this novel in the public domain!

This title is also available in the following formats:

Large Print

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

I recently read the gentlest of all gentle reads. If you like beautiful art, dragons, and stories of friendship and found family, this series may be for you.

In volume one, The Tea Dragon Society, a young apprentice blacksmith named Greta encounters her first tea dragon – a miniature, domesticated dragon which grows tea leaves from its horns – and brings it back to its home. There she joins the small family devoted to the care and keeping of tea dragons: healer and teamaker Hesekiel, his partner Erik, and their recent houseguest Minette, who’s troubled by a lack of memory. Greta and Minette learn not only about tea dragons, but about friendship, craftsmanship, and how to honor ancient traditions.

In volume two, The Tea Dragon Festival, we’re seeing an episode from Hesekiel and Erik’s younger days, as they go home to Erik’s mountain village for the Tea Dragon Festival. The main character of the story is Rinn, a skilled gatherer of vegetables and herbs that grow in out-of-the-way places. One day as they’re out gathering, Rinn discovers a full-size sleeping dragon. When he wakes, the dragon Aedhan says he’s the guardian of their village, mysteriously asleep for eighty years. Rinn helps him honor the past and learn how to be a part of the village, while Erik and Hesekiel investigate the cause of Aedhan’s long sleep.

Volume three, the Tea Dragon Tapestry, is out now in our Rivershare libraries, and picks up the story of Greta and Minette as they learn about growing up. Greta is still working hard to learn blacksmithing, while trying to bond with tea dragon Ginseng – and her challenges give her lots to learn about craftsmanship and grief. Minette, meanwhile, learns more about her past, her gift of prophecy, and her future. All the while their family and friendship gives them each the support they need to find their paths forward.

For a devoted tea drinker like me, the whole concept of tea dragons was utterly charming, and the slow, unhurried pace of the story was deeply restful. I think the author also works in some good meditations on craftsmanship, progress, tradition, and friendship. If you need a healing break, read these graphic novels! While the first two volumes are available on Overdrive, I do recommend the physical copies for the full immersive experience.