Yeah, I liked this book that much.
After I read the author's blog--and liked her so much I snagged her for a guest post over at The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog--I started to worry about the inevitable moment of truth: What if I read her book and didn't like it? After all, there are no guarantees about any given book, even those published by the big houses and buzzed all over the place as the next HP or Twilight! So what would I do if I didn't like THE CLEARING? This anxiety kept me from reading it at first, even when I had the lovely paperback sitting on my night stand. It waited patiently for me to grow a spine, which I did, thankfully.
All my stress, it turns out, was for naught. In fact, Riley's debut novel is right up there with the best in the urban fantasy genre. THE CLEARING boasts a suspenseful, spooky plot and relatable, tortured characters. I thought about it for days afterward. I wished for a sequel or companion novel to continue in the unique world Anne Riley created. I cried multiple times as the protagonist Natalie dealt with such serious issues as bullying at school and her parents' deaths. The twists are sublimely surprising, and the magical escapism enchanted me. Doesn't every girl hope deep down that she's special? Especially those of us who were bullied relentlessly in school!
And that is as specific as I'll be with the spoilers. :)
My one complaint, which I repeated on goodreads, is that I really wish the publishers that courted Anne had completed the sale. She ended up self-publishing with the blessing of her agent after multiple near-successes (which I think is admirable), and her book has received very positive reviews on goodreads, amazon, and smashwords. However, after reading it, I felt a bit of righteous indignation on Riley's behalf. I wanted THE CLEARING to get the royal treatment of comparable books! I wished it had been covered in the beautiful art that made me pick up Mistwood or any of Cassandra Clare's books. It needed something spooky and Druidish, ancient and compelling. I don't mean to insult the author's current cover, but it doesn't dress for the occasion. One might very well believe he's picking up a literary novel rather than a YA urban fantasy with commercial, mainstream appeal.
So I advise my readers not to believe what the cover is telling you. Imagine ancient symbols and a Druid cross encrusted with jewels or a girl and a boy embracing in a forest clearing with a spooky light glowing around them. Imagine Anne Riley's name in a script-and-scroll font, disappearing into the darkness on the bottom.
And once you've done all that, crack open this pleasure read and enjoy! It gets FIVE STARS from me. Well done, Anne! I hope to enjoy many more books with your name on them.
The blurb on goodreads:
Natalie Watson doesn’t believe the reports about the way her parents died. In fact, she’s not sure she believes in much of anything these days. But after moving from her home in Georgia to her aunt’s boarding school in Maine, solving the mystery of her parents’ deaths is just one of several things on her mind. When she’s not fending off attacks from the popular kids or taking refuge in the pages of a novel, she ponders the rumors circulating about a certain boy in her math class… a boy with fiery red hair who never speaks to anyone.
Despite suspicions that he may have murdered his sister a year earlier, Natalie finds it impossible to stay away from Liam Abernathy – especially when he confesses to knowing something about her parents. Soon she’s following him into the forest, where things happen she doesn’t understand… things that shouldn’t be possible….
As Liam’s story unfolds, Natalie realizes she’s more connected to him than she ever thought – and not everyone she counts as a friend can be trusted.