Grave Mercy is the first of Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassin series. It takes place in Brittany in the late 1400s. The Duke has recently died, leaving 12-year-old Anne facing many suitors for her hand and her kingdom.
Ismae, the daughter of a turnip farmer, is unaware of the precarious situation in her country. Her world is the small village where she grew up abandoned by her mother and brutalized by her father. When her circumstances can get no worse, she finds salvation at the hands of strangers who secret her away to the convent of St. Mortain, the ancient god of Death. Her days are spent learning swordfighting, poisons and their uses, hand-to-hand combat, and the “womanly arts” because as a handmaiden of Death, she must be ready to use any means necessary to fulfill Mortain’s will.
During her trials to prove her readiness for service, she meets Gavriel Duval, one of the young duchess’ most trusted advisors. Duval catches Ismae moments after she killed a traitor who was marked for death by the saint. He follows Ismae to the convent where he tries to get the reverend mother to cooperate with his need to catch and question the traitors before they are killed. The reverend mother neatly traps him into taking Ismae with him to court in Guerande so as to keep the convent better informed of the factions warring for the kingdom.
Viscount Crunard, chancellor of Brittany, and the reverend mother put another task to Ismae, keep Duval under surveillance to determine if he is the traitor working against the Duchess.
Now Ismae faces court intrigue, complex family dynamics and the unfamiliar feelings of falling in love. But while out of her element, she doesn’t sit idly by and wait for orders from the Convent, nor does she follow every directive from Duval. She shows spunk and an appealing independence. Her training as an assassin and special talents as a follower of Mortain come in handy more than once.
And while Ismae grows impatient waiting for her saint to indicate who among the many suspects she should kill, time is running out for the young Duchess as France makes moves to invade.
Grave Mercy is a fast-paced story based on actual people and events. While the first of a series, it neatly stands alone. Don’t get me wrong, I want to read what comes next, but I wasn’t left unsatisfied after I read the last page. I can see this book, and the rest of the series, appealing to adults as well as young adults. The main characters are well-developed, and the supporting cast is interesting. And did I mention the falling in love part? Well-written and satisfyingly believable.
I particularly enjoyed listening to the audiobook which was skillfully narrated by Erin Moon. She did a terrific job changing her inflections for the different characters. I especially liked hearing the correct pronunciation of the character and city names. The audiobook is about 14 hours long.
Check the WRL catalog for Grave Mercy
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Grave Mercy
Jessica shares this review:
This is the first installment in The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Stroud. The story focuses on young Nathaniel, a magician’s apprentice, beginning his training in the art of magic. From the very beginning he shows incredible promise but is unfortunately paired with a sub-par and rather boring instructor. Out of boredom and internal motivation, Nathaniel begins his own private studies, quickly gobbling up book after book in the old magicians study. Things would have continued slow and steady for Nathaniel but a fateful and humiliating event leaves him burning with rage and a desire for revenge. And so begins his summon of a powerful djinni, one who can help him to get retribution on the very magician who caused him so much hurt. But the djinni, called Bartimaeus, is more formidable and cunning than Nathaniel could have imagined and his rival magician, Simon Lovelace is even more dangerous than he expected. A simple plan turns into a catastrophic ordeal when Nathaniel orders Bartimaeus to steal a priceless token from Lovelace, the Amulet of Samarkand. Now, around every corner lurks unseen threats and hidden perils. And worst of all, Nathaniel has done the one thing a true magician is never supposed to do…he has lost control, not only of his djinni but everything around him.
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Laura shares this review:
On the surface, this is a familiar story: teenage angst about life intertwined with a modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Gloria “Glory” Fleming is a teenage piano prodigy who is dealing with the pressures created by her talent and her career while still trying to cope with the loss of her mother several years before. She meets and falls in love with Frank Mendoza, a teen from Argentina who has recently moved in next door. Their relationship intensifies as their respective lives crumble. At the start of the book you find out that Glory has disappeared after slipping away from a rest home for musicians. The reader then traces back over the previous 18 months to find clues to where she went and why.
The actual process of reading the book is in itself a unique experience. That Chopsticks is bound like a book is indisputable but there are few words contained on the pages. Nor is it presented like a graphic novel with blocks of drawings and pops of dialogue. Instead we are asked to flip through a collection of concert programs, wine bottle labels, screenshots of IM conversations, album covers, newspaper clippings, photos, school progress reports, paintings, and more. The narrative more closely follows flipping through a stranger’s scrapbooked diary. It is intimate but incomplete, as the characters are not asked to explain themselves or put their words into the context in which they were meant to be taken. Are the angry words just flashes of emotion stemming from the frustration of existing in a world where you are supposed to be either an adult or a child, but not both? Or do they expose some deeper trouble within the teenager’s psyche?
The voyeuristic view into the character’s private thoughts is slightly uncomfortable yet fascinating. There are no answers here, or at least none that are tidy or even concrete. Individual readers will find different answers to the plot questions based on their own interpretation of the evidence presented. I found myself going back over sections multiple times after I had initially completed the book, seeing how my own view changed over time. The only thing I knew for sure is that Glory had disappeared, and I was left with the extraordinary ache created by the human-shaped hole left behind.
Any reader, but especially those interested in the complexities of both teens and human relationships and who don’t mind the ambiguity will be richly rewarded by investigating this book.
Check the WRL catalog for Chopsticks.
Here’s a good fast-paced young adult novel to try. The main character is a warrior girl, but instead of living in the time of knights and ladies, this story takes place closer to modern or near future times.
Miranda finds herself in a mall, with no memory of anything beyond her name. When she asks the mall cop for help, he thinks she’s just playing games with him. As she tries to explain, her head begins to hurt until at last the pain radiates outward. She is horrified to see people flee in fear. Unsure what’s going on, she scans the panicking crowd until she sees a guy her age just watching her.
He tells her his name is Peter, and that he knows her. Because he says he can explain what just happened, Miranda follows him to an underground bunker in the forest.
She discovers that she is part of a team of four genetically engineered kids who are being trained as “crowd control weapons.” One of the side effects of the gene therapy is memory loss, which is countered by taking medicine. She was taken off the medicine without her knowledge by one of her teammates, Noah. Noah and the fourth member of their team, Olive, have gone missing.
Miranda and Peter must locate their missing comrades and bring them back to the facility. But in the process they uncover the lies they have been told about their true purpose and how they came to exist. Lots of twists and turns and double-crosses keep the action moving. And the fight sequences are engaging and detailed.
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Jennifer D. shares this review:
The town of Beau Rivage is filled with fairy tale characters. There are princes and princesses, beasts and mermaids, fairies and wolves, huntsmen and match girls – but they all take the form of average citizens. All that would distinguish the teens in this tale from normal teens is a “märchen mark” or birthmark that identifies their role and destiny. Mira has a birthmark on her back that resembles a wheel, but never knew its meaning until she traveled to Beau Rivage, the town where she was born.
The only life Mira can remember is living with her extremely overprotective godmothers. Her sixteenth birthday is only a week away and she is determined to spend it in her hometown and to find her parents’ graves. Having concocted an elaborate plan to elude her godmothers, Mira arrives in Beau Rivage and quickly makes the acquaintance of two brothers, Felix and Blue Valentine. While they couldn’t be more different (Felix is helpful and attentive, Blue is rude and obnoxious), Mira finds herself strangely drawn to both of them. Felix promises to help Mira find her parents’ graves, but Blue is focused on getting Mira out of town, and away from Felix, as fast as possible. Mira, however, will not be swayed from either her task or Felix’s attentions. It does seem strange, though, that no one will explain the meaning of the Valentine brothers’ heart-shaped märchen marks. What fairy tale roles do they play? What role will Mira play in their stories?
In Kill Me Softly, Sarah Cross puts a contemporary and highly entertaining spin on traditional fairy tales. Fans of the Grimms’ most gruesome stories will find much to enjoy in this modern mash-up of some of their greatest creations. While Mira’s story comes to a close in this book, the intricate mythology Cross has created for the town of Beau Rivage could potentially lend itself to a sequel.
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Tamora Pierce is an award-winning and bestselling fantasy author of young adult literature. She has written stand alone books and short stories as well as multiple series. Her first young adult novel, published in 1983, was Alanna, the First Adventure.
This story opens with Alanna and her twin brother Thom unhappy about their father’s decision to send them away for school. It’s not that they don’t want to leave home and have new experiences, it’s that they wish their father would consider what they want to do.
Alanna doesn’t want to go to a convent and learn all the boring necessities of being a lady. She wants to be a knight, a warrior maiden. And Thom really doesn’t enjoy sword fighting and battle strategy, he’d rather be a great sorcerer.
The two decide to take their fates into their own hands and switch places. With the help of two dedicated servants, Alanna heads to Duke Gareth of Naxen as “Alan of Trebond” to serve as a page while Thom goes to the City of Gods to study magic. Their negligent father is none the wiser.
Alanna pays attention and learns her lessons well. She also shows she has a strong character and doesn’t let others fight her battles. Mixed in with the lessons and sword fights are court politics, sorcery, and the continual stress of hiding her true nature from her friends. I kept expecting her secret to be revealed at every new scene — how long would the boys believe that “Alan” was just a small-framed boy with a fear of swimming with the group?
Alanna is a great role model — she embodies all the good qualities of a knight — but the book ends before she completes her training. You’ll have to keep reading the series! And don’t think just because Alanna has the makings of a hero that she’s boring. There is plenty of mischief to keep the story clipping along.
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Jennifer D. shares this review:
The first thing you have to do before reading this book is accept its hard-to-believe premise. Set in the present day, NASA scientists want to boost interest in the fading space program by sending three teenagers into space. If you can get past the fact that NASA scientists would never think this was a good idea, much less that it actually comes to pass, then you’ll enjoy this book. What makes the plot a bit easier to swallow is that NASA actually has a hidden agenda. They need an excuse to send another team of astronauts to the moon, and the media circus surrounding the worldwide teen astronaut contest will mask the true purpose of the mission. NASA needs to find out if what Armstrong and Aldrin encountered in 1969 is still up there.
The three teens, Midori from Japan, Mia from Norway, and Antoine from France are chosen, trained, and sent into space along with a crew of five astronauts. The majority of the plot takes place after the team has reached the moon, however one significant event occurs to each of the three teens before takeoff. They each have an experience that is unexplained and unsettling and which almost convinces them not to go through with the mission. Someone (or something) doesn’t want humans back on the moon, and from the moment the team lands things begin to go horribly wrong. Events occur at a breakneck pace and the suspense builds to a stunning conclusion.
172 Hours on the Moon is an excellent sci-fi horror story/psychological thriller and one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. It continued to occupy my thoughts for days after I finished reading. The atmosphere is intense, drawing from the isolation of being alone on the moon accompanied by only a few others with extremely limited resources. And then the enemy reveals itself.
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Jessica shares this review:
Seventeen-year-old Sophie Crue lives the life of any normal teenager…she argues with her father, questions her parents’ divorce, and has a bit of trouble fitting in with her step-mom and half siblings. But everything changes when Sophie receives a mysterious and alarming email from her mother. According to the note her mother is in trouble and needs her help immediately. Sophie doesn’t think twice before hoping on a plane and heading to Guam, her childhood home, the one she shared with her parents when they were still married and working together as doctors. But from the moment she lands things start to go wrong. None of the local pilots will fly her out to the feared and isolated Skin Island her mother works on. In fact, none of them will say a word about it, other than a warning to steer clear.
When Sophie finally finds a young and daring pilot who might accept, she realizes he is her best friend from childhood, Jim Julian…though in a very grown-up and attractive form. He begrudgingly agrees to the trip but when they land on Skin Island he immediately knows they’ve made a terrible decision. Sophie’s mother is nowhere in sight and there’s no indication she was expecting them…not to mention the plane was damaged on landing by something on the landing strip. As they branch from the plane and get closer to the islands activity hub they stumble upon an even more startling discovery. The scientists are experimenting on human embryos, and creating Vitros; humans that have been altered and raised in tanks until their teenage years when they emerge fully grown. But as more and more questions begin to arise and the danger for Sophie and Jim becomes all too apparent the reader has to ask…how will these two ever survive all that the island and the morally questionable Corpus company has to throw at them?
Also, check out Khoury’s previously published YA novel, Origin.
Check the WRL catalog for Vitro.