Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy Grave Mercy
by Robin LaFevers

ISBN-13: 9-780547-628349
Publication: April 2012 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Thomas Allen & Son/audiobooksync.com
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it!
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae finds sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts – and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must be willing to take the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany, where she must pose as mistress to the darkly mysterious Gavriel Duval, who has fallen under a cloud of suspicion. Once there, she finds herself woefully underprepared – not only for the deadly games of love and intrigue, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

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Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers had me hooked and entranced right from the beginning. Robin LaFevers has managed to evoke a strong since of the time period and place that she is writing about, to the extent that I felt as if I myself was embroiled in the court politics and romance.

Ismae is whisked away from a brutal marriage (on her wedding night) and taken to the convent of Saint Mortain, a place where she – who is believed to be sired by the god of death himself – can be safe and serve her father, Mortain. How? Oh, assassination. Yupp, by being a handmaiden of death, Ismae will help serve. I found Ismae to be a compelling character. She starts off with a sense of strength, and while her time at the convent led her to believe that no man would ever hold her interest and that many deserved death if they acted against the court, and that her abbess is always correct in her orders, through the assignment she is given, Ismae slowly learns that there is more to being a daughter of Mortain than just inflicting death and that she can learn to stand on her own. Duval helps a lot in growing Ismae’s sense of self and purpose. I really enjoyed the slow burn romance, and that while we could tell it was coming, the mystery and politics took center stage.

Grave Mercy is a large book, and a long audiobook, but its length is supported by a rich cast of main and secondary characters, wonderfully woven plots and intrigue, a teasing bit of romance and absolutely fantastic character development and world building. Each introduced characters had a part to play and served in keeping the real traitor hidden until the ultimate climax of the book. I had my suspicions, but would not believe them to be true (until the were) due to the twisting way that Robin LeFevers gives us hints and then seems to contradict them – but not. It’s wicked. No one can be trusted. Ismae can rely only on herself in the end to try and figure out the best way to save the Duchess Anne and still serve Saint Mortain.

4.5 heart

I listened to Grave Mercy during the many long and not-so-long car trips this summer (I spend a lot of time in my car…) and I am definitely glad I did. The narrator is simply awesome, lending voices and accents to the characters to help create a sense of the time and place. I was initially wary of this book (historical fiction with assassins from a convent?) and had moments in the beginning of wondering if I’d connect with Ismae, but as the story continues, this is one novel you can really sink your teeth into and get lost in the action. I definitely recommend it, and highly suggest the audiobook!

Hardcover copy provided by Thomas Allen & Son in exchange for my honest review. Audiobook, upon which this review is based, was downloaded courtesy of audiobooksync.com‘s YA summer sync program. Thank you!

Review: Son by Lois Lowry

Son
by Lois Lowry

ISBN-13: 9-780547-887203
Publication: October 2012 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Series: book 4 in The Giver
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

“They called her Water Claire.”

When she washed up on their shore, no one knew she had been a Vessel. That she had carried a Product. That it had been carved from her belly. Stolen.

Claire had had a son.

She was supposed to forget him, but that was impossible. And when he was taken from their community, she knew she had to follow. In the years that pass, Claire knows she will stop at nothing to find her child…even if it means trading her own life.

Son by Lois Lowry is the final book in the series that started with The Giver and I am full of all kinds of feelings. I finished the book, and had to do that big happy/sad sigh where you clutch the book close and then proceed to rave about it to anyone close by. It’s no secret that The Giver is one of my favourite books, and I couldn’t be happier with the conclusion to the story. Son delivers everything and more. Since the story is written in three parts, this review will also be in three parts, a little differently than the way I usually do things.

First up, the beginning. Claire. When Claire was twelve, she was chosen as Birth Mother. Now giving birth to her first “product”, something doesn’t go as planned and Claire is returned to the main Community. It’s as this first section progresses that we realize Claire is little baby Gabe’s mother. I was ecstatic to see parts of Jonas’ story in The Giver from a different point of view. Claire’s observations and feelings help bring back everything from that first book, and even though Claire never mentions his name, we know that the Caretaker for baby Gabe is Jonas’ dad even before he tells Claire his son’s name. And Claire – she’s wonderful. So confused by everything she’s feeling, and all that’s happening to her now, she is still quietly rebelling against the rules of her Community, defying everything she knows for this new feeling – love. Though only around fourteen years old, Claire is so strong and intelligent. When she realizes Gabe is gone, she doesn’t hesitate to leave. Lois Lowry’s writing in this section is wonderful. You really get a clear sense of Claire’s desperation, fear, longing and love.

During the second section, when Claire has escape the community, we get a sense of books two and three, Gathering Blue and Messenger. A different community, new rules, new beliefs. Claire’s experiences in this village really help showcase and outline what was missing from Claire’s Community. Any of those subtle details you may have missed when reading The Giver – like the lack of colour, different weather, feelings and animals – are mentioned and wondered at. Claire does a lot of growing and maturing during this period and proves that a mother’s love knows no bounds. She’ll do anything to get Gabe back, even make a deal with a devil.

Part three is my favourite. It’s all Gabe. I loved seeing Jonas and Kira again, and getting to experience a grown up Gabe. This section really fills in the missing links and final pieces of the puzzle. While The Giver was an unsettling book due to the dystopian nature of the Community, Gathering Blue and Messenger slowly added in the elements of good vs. evil that Son embraces and runs with. Gabe has a huge part to play in ridding his village of ultimate evil in the form of the Trademaster – the man that Claire made the deal with to find her missing son. I had good goosebumps when reading about Claire and Jonas talking and reminiscing; no one else knows of their Community and understands what they dealt with there. Claire and Gabe meeting was tear inducing, and Gabe’s conviction to fight evil and know his mother heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time. His battle is maybe not the most epic of fights, but it is so important, and Lois Lowry really knows how to convey emotion and detail in such a way that you are transfixed and absorbed by the story.

Son by Lois Lowry is beautifully written and realized – reading it was like visiting an old friend. Ultimately about the love of a mother for a son, and a son for a mother, Son tackles that age old problem of good vs. evil, and how far we’d go to protect those we love most. There’s a scene and line at the end of the book that had me smiling through tears, and it’s a perfect end to the story. An ultimately happy ending, all those loose threads and questions from the previous books have been gathered and answered as much as they possibly can. Anything left to wonder about will have to be satisfied by the reader’s own imagination.

ARC received from Children’s Author Breakfast at Book Expo America.

Review: In the Forests of the Night by Kersten Hamilton

 

In the Forests of the Night (Goblin Wars 2)
by Kersten Hamilton

ISBN-13: 9-780547-435602
Published: November 2011 by Clarion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Rating: 4 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it

Teagan, Finn, and Aiden have made it out of Mag Mell alive. But the Dark Man’s forces have followed them to Chicago and are beckoning Tea to return. They claim that she will soon join them, as goblin blood is never passive once awoken. And in the meantime, they are happy to entertain themselves by trying to seduce, kidnap, or murder her family and friends.

Teagan knows she doesn’t have much time left, and she refuses to leave Finn or her family to be tortured or killed. A wild Stormrider, born to rule and reign, is growing stronger inside her. But as long as she can hold on, she’s still Teagan Wylltson, who plans to be a veterinarian and who heals the sick and hurting. The disease that’s destroying her – that’s destroying them all – has a name: Fear Doirich.

And Teagan Wylltson is not going to let him win.

I highly enjoyed this sequel to last year’s Tyger, Tyger. In the Forests of the Night picks up right where we’re left at in the first book and hits the ground running. Teagan, her brother Aiden, their dad, Finn and the rest are safely back from and out of Mag Mell. But old blood has been awakened, and Mag Mell and Fear Doirich do not let go so easily.

While not as immediately action-packed as you would assume it would be, In the Forests of the Night spend much of the first part of the book explaining some of those questions we were left with from Tyger, Tyger. We learn more about Mag Mell, the goblins, Fear Doirich, celtic myth, you name it. And yet, despite the lack of overt fighting, exploring, etc. I was still sucked in and hooked on the world that Kersten Hamilton has created. By the time Kyle (high-born from Mag Mell in the first book) shows up to wreck havoc with Teagan’s already only semi-normal life, there has been enough build up and small incidences that the action at the end of the book is just a natural progression and extension of everything we’ve learned at the beginning. And of course there are more cliffhangers to carry us over to the third book!

Teagan is still the strong, independent character I remember from the first book. She will do anything for her family and friends, and while she and Finn are feeling the mutual love, she is determined to take it slow and continue on with her plans for the future. I say go her! Although Finn is yummy and definitely worthy of Teagan. Finn is a nice guy who has a destiny, but he loves Teagan and will stay by her side no matter what she says. I think that’s one thing I really like about this series – the family/friend dynamics are amazing. Everyone genuinely cares for one another and there is no fear that the best friend is going to stab the main character in the back in four chapters and screw everything up. No, in fact the best friend will enlist the help of her Italian mafia family to clean up the bodies in the school hallway (no joke).

In the Forests of the Night is an entertaining sequel to a promising series, and I am eagerly waiting for book three! For all the questions this book cleared up, it left us with even more and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

ARC of In the Forests of the Night provided by the author and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for my honest review.

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Hunger
by Jackie Morse Kessler
ISBN-13: 9-780547-341248
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it

Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home – her constant battle with hunger and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go to places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power – and the courage to fight her own inner demons?

Hunger is a topsy-turvy ride through darkeness and light. It was not quite what I was expecting, but I might have liked it all the more because of that.

Lisa, an anorexic teen, is the new Famine. As one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it’s her duty to go out into the world and spread Famine. But Lisa has her own problems – always fighting with her boyfriend, not speaking to her best friend, and refusing to admit she has an eating disorder. Add being Famine to the list and Lisa is overwhelmed. At first it seems like her turbulant thoughts and anger will make her job as Famine to go smoothly. But Lisa soon realizes that being Famine isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; her new outlook on life allows her to see that maybe – just maybe – her ex-best friend is right…she needs help.

Lisa is such a real, raw character. Her reactions were all very realistic…to the normal stuff, anyway. I’m not sure what reacting to becoming a Horsemen would be like, really. No one I have known (to my knowledge, anyway) has suffered from anorexia or bulimia, but the emotions that Jackie Morse Kessler evoked through her writing seemed quite truthful, to me. Lisa was calm and in control at times, and at others she was a basket case in denial. Although we didn’t see too much of the supporting characters, Lisa’s interactions with her family, boyfriend and friends were all very well realized. And the Horsemen? Were stark and dark. Death was by far my favourite. I hope we get to read his story.

The scenarios with Lisa and her friend Tammy together are heartbreaking. Tammy is extremely self-destructive in her behaviour, and Lisa is floating up denial without a raft. Weaving such an important subject into a mythical/biblical story was genius; are we even sure that Lisa really was Famine? Did Death, War and Pestilence exist? Or was Lisa just so far gone into hunger and weakness that it was all in her mind? Jackie’s writing drags you right in to Lisa’s headspace and doesn’t let you leave until the story’s been told. I was hooked from the beginning – Hunger is brilliant, and stays with you long after you turn the last page.

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt at NetGalley for providing me the eGalley of Hunger for review.

The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike

The Secret of Ka
by Christopher Pike
ISBN-13: 9-780547-342474
Rating: 4 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it

One minute Sara’s bored out of her mind on vacation in Istanbul. The next, she’s unearthed a flying carpet that cleverly drags her to the mysterious Island of the Djinn – or genies. By her side is Amesh, a hot boy she has a crush on but doesn’t yet trust. When Amesh learns the secret of invoking djinn, he loses control. He swears he’ll call upon only one djinn and make only one wish. The plan sounds safe enough…

But neither Sara nor Amesh is any match for the monster that swells before them. It quickly hypnotizes Amesh, compelling him to steal Sara’s flying carpet and leave her stranded on the island.

Discovering the carpet has sparked a new path for Sara, one that will lead her to battle creatures even deadlier than djinn. In this fight, Sara can save mankind, herself, or the boy she cares for. Who will she be forced to sacrifice?

I’ve had a love for Christopher Pike books ever since I picked up Monster back in 1999. So of course I had to read this one.

I found The Secret of Ka to be fairly different from other Pike books. With the idea of genies and magic carpets, it’s much more fantasy than horror/thriller; but I liked it just as much. Sara’s a pretty interesting character. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of her. She’s this headstrong, get what she wants type girl, who’s a tiny bit bratty. As the story progresses and Sara comes into posession of the Carpet of Ka, her entire character begins to change. She realizes there are bigger forces at work in the universe than she ever thought, and she has a destiny that she isn’t sure she wants. Her whole life gets flipped upside down and inside out, and she handles it about as well as can be expected. But Amesh. I did not like him, at all. He did nothing but cause Sara trouble, and yet she loves him and gives him more than enough second chances. Yes, I can see that he had a difficult life and of course he wants revenge. But to be so weak as to let that overpower everything to the point that you put everyone in danger? Nu-uh, no thank you. Hopefully his character gets explored more in any sequels that might pop up and help redeem him to me.

Once I got involved in the story, I couldn’t put it down. Pike’s writing style has always dragged me in and kept me captivated, and The Secret of Ka is no exception. But it was when I reached the end of the book, and talk of time travel and other worlds appeared that I smiled in satisfaction. Very reminiscent of the Starlight Crystal, the end of the book is when things start really getting good, and of course Pike leaves us wanting more. With more questions than explanations, I was at once both satisfied and crying for more explanation. I’m highly looking forward to any sequels, and my love of Christopher Pike books has in no way diminished – just been reinforced.

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt at NetGalley for providing me the eGalley of The Secret of Ka for review.

Tyger, Tyger by Kersten Hamilton

Tyger, Tyger
by Kersten Hamilton
ISBN-13: 9-780547-330082
Publication Date: November 15, 2010
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really, really liked it

Teagan Wylltson’s best friend, Abby, dreams that horrifying creatures—goblins, shape-shifters, and beings of unearthly beauty but terrible cruelty—are hunting Teagan. Abby is always coming up with crazy stuff, though, so Teagan isn’t worried. Her life isn’t in danger. In fact, it’s perfect. She’s on track for a college scholarship. She has a great job. She’s focused on school, work, and her future. No boys, no heartaches, no problems.

Until Finn Mac Cumhaill arrives. Finn’s a bit on the unearthly beautiful side himself. He has a killer accent and a knee-weakening smile. And either he’s crazy or he’s been haunting Abby’s dreams, because he’s talking about goblins, too . . . and about being The Mac Cumhaill, born to fight all goblin-kind. Finn knows a thing or two about fighting. Which is a very good thing, because this time, Abby’s right. The goblins are coming.

Tyger, Tyger is an engaging and promising start to a new series. You’ll be easily swept away with Teagan, her brother Aiden, and Finn on their adventure to Mag Mell and the fight against the goblins and Sídhe.

Teagan and her family have always been completely oridinary – until they’re not. With the arrival of “cousin” Finn (in name only), Teagan’s eyes are opened to an entirely new world – one where goblins, Sídhe and Irish legends are all too real. As Teagan, Aiden and Finn race against time to retrieve something precious from the goblins, secrets never even imagined are revealed, and Teagan begins to realize that Finn means more to her than she ever wants to admit.

Characterization was wonderful, I was able to really lose myself in Teagan’s voice and family. Teagan is a smart, capable, caring and adventurous girl who, even though her whole life is changing, manages to keep her head in tough situations and look after her family. Aiden, her younger brother, is precocious and creepily smart for his age. Although intelligent, Aiden’s character is kept believably within his age. Finn is the hot, mysterious love interest, and he plays the part well. The romance in the book is kept to a slow, almost non-existant, pace and is background to the adventure. There is enough there to keep the romance readers happy but doesn’t distract from the main storyline at all.

The writing really drew me in to Teagan’s world. Kersten Hamilton has managed to put a unique and intriguing spin on Irish mythology and I loved it. I had a hard time keeping it all straight (who was descended from who and what there ancestors had done, exactly) but the lore was rich, and sprinkled throughout the novel so that the reader isn’t bombarded with a ton of knowledge all at once. Everything flowed seamlessly together, with the action scenes paced very well (and they are total attention grabbers). The main plot was wrapped up nicely, but enough questions were left unanswered that the sequel will by much-anticipated.

Tyger, Tyger is a heartpounding adventure that will leave you searching for goblins out of the corner of your eye, and anxiously waiting for more.

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt at NetGalley for providing me the eGalley of Tyger, Tyger for review.

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This World We Live In
by Susan Beth Pfeffer
ISBN-13: 9-780547-248042
Rating: 4 ♥ / 5 ♥

It’s been a year since a meteor collided with the moon, catastophically altering the Earth’s climate. For Miranda Evans, life as she knew it no longer exists. Her friends and neighbors are dead, the landscape is frozen, and food is increasingly scarce.

Miranda and her two brothers spend their days scavenging for food and household items, while their mother stays at home and desperately tries to hold on to the ordinary activities of their previous life. But they all know that nothing is truly normal in this surreal new world they live in.

The struggle to survive intensifies when Miranda’s father and stepmother arrive with a baby and three strangers in tow. One of the newcomers is Alex Morales, and as Miranda’s complicated feelings for him turn to love, his plans for his future thwart their relationship. Then a devastating tornado hits the town of Howell, and Miranda makes a decision that will change their lives forever.

 

The third book in Susan Beth Pfeffer’s apocalyptic series brings us once again to Miranda’s home in Howell, and her journal entries. Miranda’s life has been trucking along since we left her in Life As We Knew It; she, her mother and two brothers (Jon and Matt) recieve food every Monday from the government, make use of the electricity when they have it to wash clothes and bedding, chop wood to keep warm and spend their time cleaning, talking and generally just surviving. Their monotonous days are interuppted when food stops arriving, and then again when Miranda’s father, stepmother and new baby – along with three strangers – arrive at their door. Insert Alex and Julie Morales from The Dead and the Gone. Soon, everything seems to be getting worse, just as Miranda is finding love.

Although it didn’t have the intense feelings of worry, lose and despair that the first two books had, This World We Live In was still an emotional rollercoaster ride. With the influx of people into Miranda’s home, the worries about having enough food is a constant concern (not to mention electricity and heat). There’s flooding from melting snow and rain, ash from volcanoes covering everything and supplies running low. Still, in the midst of all this, Susan Beth Pfeffer manages to tell an incredible story of hope, finding love in the most unexpected places and that family is more than just blood.

The ending was a bit rushed compared to the rest of the story, and even though Miranda can be seen as the main character of the series (seeing as she’s the narrator of two books, so we get to know her better), I feel that Alex came out the worst of them all. He was put through everything bad that he could be put through and still come out sane. I felt more connected to Alex than I did Miranda, and wish we had got some of his POV in this book as well. Alternating chapters would have been nice! In the end, though, it comes down to that gut-wrenching disbelief that anyone could survive what these characters have, and that was there. This World We Live In delivered.