Review: Opal by Maggie Stiefvater

If you’ve previously read my reviews* for any of the books in the Raven Cycle, you probably know by now that I’m a huge fan of Ronan Lynch. So finding out about this short story dedicated to Opal, aka Ronan’s dream girl, had me beyond keen on returning to their world.

“She was to remember that she was a secret.”

Set after the events of The Raven King, this story, like all the best things, starts with a dream. And just like that, upon opening the first page, I felt like I had never left this world, even though it’s been nearly two years since I first read the books. It’s even more magical than I could have envisioned. And I have so much to discuss, so let’s start at the very beginning:

(Spoilers from here.)

  •  We’re back at the loyal Barns, featuring Opal, Ronan, and Adam, and thanks to Opal’s excellent eavesdropping, we get an insider’s scoop into their lives that just hits the mark of satisfied:

“She had to content herself with stolen glimpses through cracked doors, slender one-inch views of duvet and sheets piled like thunderheads, Adam and sometimes Ronan pillowed among them.”

I missed my sleepy boys…

  • Good: Ronan’s intent of dreaming up a better and safer Cabeswater. Watching him dream is always one of my favorite bits because that’s Ronan at his most vulnerable. Speaking of which, this delicate shared moment made my heart flip:

“The only thing that had ever made her blink away was when Adam had once encountered Ronan in the second-floor hallway. Ronan had been standing outside of his parents’ old room, one hand holding a cassette tape and the other clenched into a fist, and he’d been there for quite a few minutes by the time Adam climbed the stairs. Adam had taken the cassette from Ronan’s hand, working Ronan’s fingers loose and putting his own fingers between them. For a moment Opal, hidden, had thought they were going to kiss. But instead, Ronan pressed his face against Adam’s neck and Adam quietly put his head on top of Ronan’s head and they did not move for a long time. Something about this made Opal burn so furiously that she could not stand to look a second longer.”

As I read, all I could think of was this fanart:

  • Ronan cares so much for Adam, and you can feel it oozing off the page through the tiniest of moments:

“Ronan was less thrilled to discover Adam’s inventive way of travel. “What the hell, Parrish? I was just about to leave to get you. Who dropped you off?”
“I walked.”
“Ha ha.” Ronan’s real laugh did not sound like ha ha, but this was not Ronan’s real laugh. When Adam didn’t explain the joke, he said, “Walked. From where?”
“Work.” Adam had ceased frolicking and instead removed his shoes and then his socks before sitting at the round table in the kitchen.
“Work. What. The. Hell. I told you I was going to pick you up.”
“I needed to walk.” Adam put his head on the table.”

  • Bad: We were saved from seeing the raven gang disperse in The Raven King, but it’s pretty much unavoidable here… and I wasn’t ready.

“I’m coming back,” he said.
She tore up some more grass, but she felt a little less wobbly having heard him say it.
“I don’t want to go, but I do — does that make sense?” he asked her. It did, especially if she thought about how some of her dreamthing’s happy-sadness might have rubbed off on him because they were sitting so close. “It’s just that it’s finally starting. You know. Life.”

You deserve so much, Adam.

  • Good: Seeing things captured through Opal’s eyes was a curious experiment that I find this passage conveys best:

“Ronan was not there to tell Opal it was all right for this visitor to see her, so Opal hid herself and watched the lady stalk through the mist to the back door. The lady tried the doorknob and the doorknob shook its head no, but then she opened her purse and did something else to the doorknob and the door said yes and opened for her.”

To capture the otherworldliness of Opal I simply had to listen to this equally mesmerizing song:

If anything, this swift read prepared me for any and all future events set to occur next. I just hope the wait for the following book won’t be too long.

“There were no rules in dreams so you could try anything.”

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Opal, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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Review: Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith by Gina B. Nahai

I was keen on finding a read with hints of magical realism in it, when I came across this wonder of a book centered on just that, with the added bonus of featuring the Jewish ghetto of Tehran.

Similar to one of my favorite multigenerational books, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, this reads starts off on a prominent related cast of female characters with a hint of otherworldliness in their everyday life. Spinning tales of signs and superstitions, falling victim to the inevitability of Destiny, featuring dreams and memories of ghosts, and stories of wayward ancestors, it seemed like I’d hit jackpot with picking up Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith.

All they wanted was to stay in one place long enough to belong. 

And for the first part of the book, I had nothing but praise in my words. I especially appreciated the grand, layered storytelling that reveals itself with time. You’re never sure of a single thing until you’ve followed the tale and its characters to the end. Which is where my appreciation for the peculiar side characters comes in. Their world, full of superstition, had me in its spinning webs. Most notably, Alexandra the Cat, whose every move was clouded with an air of mystery, was the first to catch my attention. Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith 1-- bookspoils

This above passage was a prime example of having a storyline that doesn’t disappear with the next chapter. And having it all click together was beyond satisfying to experience.

Which is what saddened me most about the novel, knowing that the minute our main character, Roxanna, would move away from her family’s home, and later her place at Alexandra’s, the book would deteriorate in time.

Because unlike the novel I mention at the start of my review, the Jewish theme, which I thought would be a prevalent one and what had me so keen on reading this book, was practically non-existent the more I read on; it disappeared with the generations. And I don’t feel like I learned anything solid about the cultural value within the Jewish ghetto of Tehran. I feel like we barely received any scenes of camaraderie, or even simple dialogue exchanged between the Iranian-Jewish characters to receive some semblance of home and community.

It also didn’t help that at the same time that I put all these points together, Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith was starting to lose its steam for me. Knowing this book wasn’t going to have a saving grace in the upcoming pages for me, I decided it best to quit ahead, as I could feel myself growing agitated and furious with the upcoming storyline.

It’s such a shame as well because this started out as an interesting tale of intersecting family lines and dealing with the burden of Destiny, yet ended on such a miserable case of virtually abandoning all the character building we had for Roxanna’s family, and instead putting the focus on her new marital home where she feels like an outsider, and as a result, so did I as the reader. All this leads in the end to her daughter, Lili, being stuck in the hands of strangers, which is where the utter disregard for their religion is shown most notably in the form of sending her off to a Catholic school… While her mother is off doing who knows what to reach her supposed ‘freedom’ that she didn’t even get to receive.Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith 2-- bookspoilsAt a certain point, the book just hit a point where the story wasn’t really moving forward or contributing any valid information that propelled the characters along. Like, there’s literally a whole page dedicated to expanding on a random bus driver who has no point in the overarching theme… And I had to put a stop to it by declaring enough is enough.

Bottom line: I’d only recommend reading this book for its introducing fifty-something pages that encompass and expand on so much.

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Review: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

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“Was she strong enough to carry all these Burdens on her own?
Or would they swallow her whole?”

I knew this book was the one I’d been looking for when I flipped to the last page of the prologue and saw a glimpse of a name I thought to be “Noa,” which was exactly what I was searching for the day earlier when on the look-out for fictional characters with the name Noah, for some inexplicable reason. (I never did find anything other than the biblical story, so please let me know if you have any solid book recommendations.)

The misread name turned out to spell “Nor,” but by then I was already too caught up in the world of The Price Guide to the Occult. I had Nor’s sardonic humor and devotion to anonymity, the promise of a book within a book, and exploring the realms of clairvoyance, telekinesis, divination to keep me satisfied.

To backtrack a bit, I’ve been a huge fan of Leslye Walton’s writing ever since I finished reading The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender back in January 2016. I think about that book more often than I think about any other. It holds such a special place in my heart because it introduced me to two of my favorite aspects in books: family-driven drama & magical realism.

Though I was caught up quickly in the storyline, as I mentioned above, it still took a bit of time to fully settle into the world of The Price Guide to the Occult… And then. Then we get some character dynamics introduced, from Nor’s sweet and lasting encounter with a certain boy to the story of her mother’s “formidable ability to manipulate the minds of those around her.” And it wasn’t long before I was lost in their world, repeating the same old mantra of “just one more page.” Once again, Leslye Walton excels at weaving together an intricately compelling family narrative.

I also had a few meta moments when it mentioned how Youtubers, reviewers, bloggers all raved about the book within our book, “after reading a glowing blog post about The Price Guide to the Occult,” because I was about to do the same.

Speaking of which, here are some noteworthy moments I cherished:

  • The fact that Nor doesn’t attend high school really hit that sweet spot for me. My main problem with YA books is that their setting is nearly always around a school, so I rarely if ever want to revisit those times of my life. So when we have a main character that feels the same and actually dares to drop out and get her GED instead, I’m left glowing.
  • The trusty old companion dogs at Nor’s unwavering side throughout the book.
  • What really got to me, though, was Nor’s unique characteristic of wanting to draw as little attention to herself as possible.

“Nor had never had the heart to tell anyone that all she wanted was to make the slightest mark as humanly possible on the world; she was too preoccupied with proving to herself that she was nothing like her mother to be focused on anything else.”

  • Which then leads me to discuss the subtle crushing she had on a certain someone (and I’m desperately trying to avoid spoilers here). Let me just say that after reading a whole anthology set around the meet-cute concept, I was more than ready for a full romance to sweep me off my feet already. And the author really knows how to keeps us on our toes when it comes to this one.

“This was what it felt like to be around him—constantly pulled in two directions, wanting to be both seen and unseen, and not knowing which one she preferred.”

I really wanted a solid build-up to happen for this couple so that by the time they got around to any kind of intimacy I’d be screaming inside. He could’ve just been standing behind her and my heart rate would pick up. It was refreshing to have love interest be so straightforward and honest about their feelings. I would leave the story to go to bed and then wake with a smile at realizing I’d left off right before he showed on the following page. But the romance was never overpowering in its role.

Anyway. I am sidetracking.

  • One thing I do wish we could’ve gotten a more extensive look into was the Blackburn lineage and their matriarch, Rona Blackburn. Like, exploring the different Burdens each Blackburn received. We got a little taste in the prologue but never fully explored past that point the true grandiosity of the first Blackburn women, which is what I loved so much in the author’s debut novel with her ability to flesh-out each generation coming before the main character.
  • The descriptions of imagery and inner monologue from Nor’s dreams were vivid, and it brought to mind Harry Potter’s struggle with seeing through Voldemort’s eyes. Which is why I was surprised when I read the Harry Potter reference to Azkaban in this book.
  • On that train of thought, Nor’s mother, Fern Blackburn, strongly represented the idea of Levana from The Lunar Chronicles, especially once I read the comparison below made by Nor’s best friend, Savvy. It gave me an unsettled feeling.

“Your mom is amazing,” Savvy continued, “but also kind of terrifying, in an evil queen kind of way. I can totally imagine her convincing the huntsman to kill me so that she can eat my heart, you know?”

  • Speaking of Savvy, aka the Guardian of Unwanted Things, I truly couldn’t have asked for a better best friend for Nor. This following quote speaks volumes about their friendship: “Though Savvy couldn’t actually solve the bulk of Nor’s problems, Nor felt better having been reminded that she had someone who gave enough of a shit to try.”
  • I wasn’t ready to be done with this book by the time I reached the ending, so I decided to read the acknowledgments, and I’m glad I did because of this touching paragraph:

(Trigger warning: self-harm.)

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All of the above were the things I would later remember. And I so hope that we’ll see more of Walton’s stories in the near future. I’m eager to know, in particular, if The Price Guide to the Occult will receive a sequel.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: March 13th 2018

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Price Guide to the Occult, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!