Thursday, March 04, 2010

Raven Stole the Moon, by Garth Stein

I think it's par for the course that many bloggers fall into a rut at some point or another. It's not to be confused with a slump, but in the case of the rut we get used to reading certain "types" of books or perhaps we find a genre we decide is not for us.

I'm as guilty as any other reader, but I made a decision, when contacted about the review opportunity to step outside my comfort zone. In all honesty, I wasn't sure it would be a positive review after I read the blurb, but it all worked out just fine.

Raven Stole the Moon is a re-issue of Garth Stein's first novel. Many of you are probably already familiar with first big success, The Art of Racing in the Rain. I distinctly remember passing that book over when it made the reviewy rounds because I generally don't do books that have anything major to do with dogs (it's a quirk!), and given all the good reviews, I was a little sad that I did pass it over. I didn't want to make the same mistake with Raven Stole the Moon, so I took the plunge.

This novel is about a well-to-do couple from Seatte--Robert and Jenna--who lose their son to drowning two years prior to the novel's action on a vacation to the Thunder Bay resort in Alaska. Jenna happens to have family and Native American ties to that area of Alaska, as her grandmother was a member of the Tlingit people. After a particularly upsetting situation with Robert, Jenna takes off to Alaska on her own and strange things begin to happen to her. She investigates her grandmother's ramshackle house, adopts an odd dog she meets in the woods, and ends up boarding with a local fisherman. All is not well as whisperings of Tlingit legend enter the picture. Specifically, Jenna begins to learn about the kushtaka--Native American spirits who steal souls. By joining forces with a Tlingit shaman, Jenna begins to unravel the mystery of her son's drowning, and hers is a harrowing journey into the unknown.

There is a definite supernatural element to this novel that I wasn't fully expecting when I accepted it for review. I supposed I expected a sprinkling of Native American legend, but the mythology and the kushtaka story are integral to the plot. It is a testament to Stein's writing that I was able to easily sink into the story and accept the role of these mythological soul stealers with few problems. Native American legend hasn't captivated me the way some other mythologies have through the years, so I was surprised at how interested I became and how much I enjoyed that aspect of the novel. The supernatural elements were thrilling and kept me flipping pages.

More importantly, the characters were well drawn. Given, there were times that I found some of Stein's dialogue slightly less than believable, but that was mostly on the part of the husband, Robert, who I didn't really like too much in the first place. Jenna's sections, as well as those relating to David Livingstone, the Tlingit Shaman, were excellent, and I enjoyed those characters more than most any characters I've read in a novel in the last year or so. Jenna is damaged not only by the loss of her son, but also by the deterioration of her marriage ever since. As a new mom-to-be, I already can't imagine losing a child, and I can only imagine the toll it could take on one's marriage if both partners aren't willing to share and work together to get through it.

As I've mentioned here before, I've had a really hard time reading contemporary novels as of late. I only read ONE last year (hard to believe), and I've been doing better this year. Raven Stole the Moon is by far the most involving novel I've read in a very long time--since the one I read last year, The Thirteenth Tale. The novels are nothing alike in premise, but they both had excellent pacing which kept me involved throughout, and that seems to be the key ingredient to a great novel reading experience for me nowadays.

I noticed on Garth Stein's homepage, a blurb from The Washington Post about Raven Stole the Moon. It describes the novel as, "deeply moving, superbly crafted and highly unconventional..." I couldn't agree more. "Unconventional" is probably the first descriptor that comes to mind when I think of Raven Stole the Moon, and it's wonderfully unconventional, at that.

If you're up for an involving read and this one sounds like a book squarely outside your usual preferences, give it a try anyway! Maybe you'll be as entertained as I was. If you'd like to find out, enter my Raven Stole the Moon giveaway!

Book Giveaway:

Enter to win a pristine new copy of Raven Stole the Moon. Simply comment below expressing your interest, and I'll draw the winner on March 9th!

21 comments:

  1. I read this book after loving The Art of Racing in the Rain (which I loved), but this one left me somewhat disappointed sadly...JMO

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  2. Diane, I'm sorry to hear this one disappointed you. Do you think it's because you read it after Art of Racing?? I don't have any reference point for Stein's writing thus far, but this one seems very different from the other.

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  3. I had The Art of Racing In The Rain, but recently gave it away because I was doing book purge and didn't think I would likely read it soon. This book sounds like it might have been quite a departure from the other one. Kudos to the author for stepping out on a different path.

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  4. Hmm I did pass on the chance to review this and I think it might have been a mistake. I haven't read 'Racing in the Rain' because I was fiercely in love with 'Marley and me' and Stein's book was part of that whole 'animal heals a family' coat tails marketing trend that followed its success (not the authors fault but I hate marketing gluts when it comes to books). Funny the things that turn you off to authors isn't it?


    I'm glad you've had better luck with contemporary novels this year, hope it continues.

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  5. Andi- I think this sounds really interesting! I have The Art of Racing in the Rain on my tbr list but I haven't picked it up yet. This one sounds better in my opinion. I would love to have the chance to read it.

    samantha.1020@yahoo.com

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  6. I also don't like books about dogs! Or animals in general, actually. I know exactly how you feel :-)

    I love that the supernatural and spiritual aspects are so prevalent in this book. How fascinating.

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  7. Great review! You are right, the pacing of this book was spot on. I'm glad that you enjoyed it as much as I did!

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  8. I wasn't a huge fan of this one but I do read a lot of contemporary fiction so maybe I have more to judge it against! I tell you, I like the older cover better. And I don't think I'll ever think of otters as being cute anymore!

    Good review by the way ... I was a bit harsher in my assessment!

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  9. This one is everywhere this week! I'd be interested in reading, mostly because it sounds so different from Racing in the Rain.

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  10. I read The Art of Racing in the Rain and really liked it, but no huge desire to read his other books at the moment. Maybe one day...

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  11. Nicole, I feel the same way. I'm always happy for any author who doesn't follow the same formula all the time.

    Jodie, similar things turn me off to authors, so we're in the same boat. So far, so good on the contemporary novels. I just finished Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife this morning. Good stuff!

    Consider yourself entered into the contest, Samantha!

    Aarti, I found the supernatural elements fascinating, too! My copy looks so mainstream women's fiction, it totally took me by surprise.

    Thanks, Stephanie!

    Jenners, there were things that bugged me, and the more space I get from this novel the more I'm thinking about those buggy things. However, I am still totally enamored of the supernatural elements, and while it was more plot than character driven, it hit the spot at just the right time. I needed a book to suck me in!

    Consider yourself a drawing contestant, Jill! It was a fun book...if you consider soul stealing fun. lol

    I hear ya, Kailana. I rarely ever get to a second book by an author unless I was just totally in love with the first one. Or I'll often lost interest completely. I'm weird that way, I guess. :)

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  12. ooo ooo ooo. I want it. Sounds great.

    P.S. I am *so right there with you* on books about dogs. I just...free-fall away from them for some reason.

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  13. I sort of hated this! but I'm glad others enjoyed it more than me.

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  14. haha, I still can't get over that you are 34 weeks pregnant and I just now noticed. ;-)

    I have a personal blog and am just now writing a series of posts about my birth. I've already written my birth story, but now I'm just going into more detail. I'm also planning on writing about cool baby products I've discovered since having a baby that you might be interested in. christmasinmarch.blogspot.com

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  15. Got ya, Rachel! Consider yourself a contestant. :)

    LOL, Amy! I'm sorry to hear it. Different strokes for different folks, yes?

    Andrea, I visited your blog last night and really enjoyed reading your birth story. Will be back to scour the site for more info!

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  16. This book sounds so cool. I read that it's an earlier book so fans of The Art of Racing in the Rain aren't too thrilled with it, but I haven't read Racing, yet. Go ahead and enter me, if you please. You know where to find me, but here's my public email:

    bookfoolery at gmail dot com

    I can't believe how close you're getting to childbirth!! Did you know I'm hosting a drawing for some children's books?

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  17. I have recently discovered how great it is to push my reading boundaries. Thanks to you, I've discovered the joy of YA fiction, and I've recently enjoyed some mysteries. I used to be a horrible contemporary lit snob.

    And I can't believe you're at 34 weeks. What colors are you using for baby Grayson's room? By the way, how did you come up with such a cool name?

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  18. Thank you for your great review, Andi. I haven't read anything by this author. I passed on this one for review, I admit, for the very reason you thought you might not like it initially. I'm glad it turned out to be good for you.

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  19. Nancy, consider yourself a contestant for the book! And I wasn't aware you were giving away children's books. I missed that somehow, but I shall rectify that immediately!

    KnittingReader, which YA have you read and loved lately!? I'm glad to know I had anything to do with that new horizon. YA is a constant favorite. As for Greyson's room (part of our room at the moment), the color scheme is a light green, blue, brown, and khaki. His bedding is adorable. I'll have to take a pic. As for the name...I have no idea. I don't even remember if Chuck or I came up with it, but we decided to "practice" with it to see if it worked, and it stuck!

    Thanks, Wendy! I was delighted that this book worked so well for me. Gotta love a good book surprise.

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  20. Oh good, I'm just in time! The Art of Racing in the Rain was one of my favorite books last year (even though I'm not a dog book reader, either) but I was a little leery of trying anything else by him. Now you've got me wanting to read this one!

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  21. Excellent revew, Andi! You're right -- our feelings are very similiar. "Unconventional" is definitely a great way to describe the story. Like you, I was shocked at how engrossed I became in the Native American folklore... and how seamlessly I "believed" everything that was happening. Good read.

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