Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Publisher/Year: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Recorded Books, 2012
Length: 14 hrs and 14 mins, 549 pages
Series?: His Fair Assassin #1
Genre: YA Historical/Paranormal
Format: Audio Book
Source: Purchased from Audible
Challenge: Feminist Reads Challenge
You heard me right.
The year is 1588. The location, Brittany. Seventeen-year-old Ismae has been rescued from the life of an arrange marriage to an awful man, and is sent to the convent of St. Mortain. There she learns that she is the daughter of St. Mortain, the god of death, and she is trained to serve him. She discovers her great powers, hones her skills, and learns of a destiny she had never imagined. At the conclusion of her training, Ismae is offered an assignment: posing as a spy in the high court, killing anyone who bears the mark of St. Mortain and attempting to discover who in the court has been a traitor to Brittany.
Okay, so my summary isn’t that great. This is a very hard book for me to describe. Check out the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads if you need a better description. Just know this: there’s romance, bad ass-ery, and poison. Lots of poison.
I can’t say this was an escapist read for me in the traditional sense. I mean, c’mon. The 1500′s were kind of gross and plague-y. And I certainly do not feel like killing people. Granted, the story does a good job of justifying the process (a god has marked the targets — you can’t argue with the gods) (…or can you?), but I’d rather be the duchess. Anyway, I don’t want to BE Ismae. But I’ll be along for her story. The 549 pages here are full of mystery and intrigue, and even a sloooooooooow burn romance. I’ll take it.
But you know what? I’m having a hard time writing this review because I just didn’t LOVE it. I picked it up because of all the gushing 5-star reviews all over ALL THE THINGS, so maybe this was an issue of hype. There wasn’t really anything wrong with it. Ismae is probably one of the best protagonists in any story I’ve read. It’s different, it introduced me to a time period I knew very little about, and somehow, still, I just thought it was good. Worth the $10 I paid on Audible, sure. Maybe not worth buying a shelf copy for a re-read.
FINAL GRADE: B I’m an anomoly. Seriously. Everyone else gave it 5 stars, so I wouldn’t take this review too seriously. I’m going to chalk this up to the format (audio book) just not holding my interest as well as a print book. Sometimes that happens. In this case I think it was because of all the French names and unfamiliar words/places. I have pretty poor auditory processing skills, so I had a hard time following who was who and where they were going and why in the beginning of the story. I’ll probably read the second book in print. Yes, this is a trilogy.
Required Reading: I’d require this to high school students and lovers of historical fiction. There is a paranormal element, but that’s not the focus of the novel.
Library Recommendations: Buy it for a high school library. I can think of about six of my more sophisticated middle school readers who would have LOVED this book, so I probably would have bought it for my library. But, honestly, I can’t see many of the under-14 set really enjoying this.
What did you think of Grave Mercy? If you loved it, inspire my readers in the comments! If you didn’t…leave me virtual fist bump of mutual understanding.
Title: Order of Darkness: Changeling
Author: Philippa Gregory
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 3/24/2102
Length: 314 pages
Series?: Order of Darkness #1
Genre: YA historical/paranormal(ish)
Source: ARC from publisher
Challenges: Feminist Reads Challenge
When I first read the blurb for Changeling, I had a hard time figuring out what the story was actually going to be about. Now that I’ve read it, I’m going to give you the summary I would have wanted to have: Changeling is about the journey of a church detective, Luca, as he investigates strange occurrences across Italy in 1453. Luce investigates as a member of the Order of the Dragon, a secret sect commissioned by the Pope to question these strange occurrences in preparation for the end of days. But basically…he’s a church detective. His first case is a abbey where the nuns seem to be possessed by evil spirits. Lady Isolde happens to reside at the abbey, locked away when she refused to marry after her father’s death. All signs in Luca’s investigation point to Isolde’s involvement in the abbey’s unsettling events — but what’s really happening when the women go to sleep?
First off, I have to say that I have never read a Philippa Gregory book. So I am not coming at Philippa Gregory’s first stab at YA with any kind of expectations about her writing. I’ve seen some mixed reviews over this novel and, well…I don’t agree with them. I liked the book. It does feel like two different stories (the inquiry at the abbey and an inquiry about a werewolf), but I thought of it more as a detective novel. It seems like other people may have been expecting either A.) heaving bosoms and lustful glances, B.) swashbuckling action and adventure or C.) intrigue in the royal court. This is more episodic, traveling through the countryside to uncover lies and deception.
What I felt really made the book work was the characters. Luca is kind of dull (though I imagine he will develop over the series), but everyone else made for a good cast. Luca’s companion, Freize, offers some comic relief and unpredictable moments. Lady Isolde is smart and stands up for what she believes in. My favorite character by far was Ishraq, Lady Isolde’s companion and friend. Ishraq is such a fascinating character, and not just because she’s a Muslim surrounded by nuns. She definitely doesn’t follow the rules and she has a fiery side.
FINAL GRADE: B I love logic. And the use of logic. And using logic to prove that seemingly fantastic scenarios are not actually all that fantastic, a la an episode of Scooby Doo. So that’s why I enjoyed Changeling, and it’s why I know I’ll find myself reading the other books in the series. I recognize that this is a first book in a series, so I’m hoping there will be additional development of the characters, romance, and this whole “changeling” plot line (which is barely explained) over the later books. I’m also feeling like there’s some big-time stuff with the church that will come out later, too. I’m very glad I decided to try this book!
Required Reading: Required for fans of historical fiction for sure. Gregory knows what she’s doing in this genre. Also required for anyone who loves romance, since this is going to grow over the course of the series. And, as noted by the Feminist Reads Challenge note at the top, this is a good book if you love a good feminist read (but one realistic to the time period).
Library Recommendation: Appropriate for middle or high school. Be aware that there is an attempted rape early in the story, as well as a murder and a violent death. I’ve also had readers wonder how similar books portray Christianity, so I will say that the story does highlight corruption of individuals who are acting pious, but the overall goal is to reveal the corruption to save the church.
April @ Good Books and Good Wine reviewed the audiobook: “Gregory has this talent for bringing history to life and infusing it with a hefty dose of drama”
Zabet @ Reading Between Classes: “It really feels like two separate stories; one that features the nunnery and one a village with a werewolf. The stories felt disconnected, almost like two novellas that were strung together in an attempt to make a full book.”
Have you read any Philippa Gregory novels? What do you think of her writing style overall?
Title: The Madman’s Daughter
Author: Megan Shephard
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: 1/29/2013
Length: 432 pages
Series?: The Madman’s Daughter #1
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Gothic
Format: Print ARC
Source: ARC from HarperCollins
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge, Feminist Reads Challenge
If you’ve ever read The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells or if you even know the plot, then you know the story. A madman (Dr. Moreau) has been banished from London for his criminal acts of surgical cruelty on animals, leaving his wife and daughter alone as he flees to an island off Australia. After her mother dies, Juliet finds herself cleaning rooms in the medical school and hoping to find her father again. Her search leads her to that isolated island, along with her childhood friend, a shipwreck victim, and a whole host of very strange-looking villagers and staff. Juliet learns that the isolation of the island is hiding as sinister secret, and she is forced to answer the one question that has haunted her for most of her life: is her father really a madman?
The Madman’s Daugher is a novel about opposing forces: good vs. evil, animal vs. human, wild vs. domestic, jungle vs. civilization, curious vs. mad, chaos vs. order, science vs. nature, and even a good ole fashioned love triangle of the Edward/Jacob variety. While Juliet watches these opposing forces play out on the island and in her romantic interests, she also must face the opposing sides within herself. Though Juliet struggles with this opposition, she also has the brains and strength to have a hand in her own fate. Juliet isn’t a perfect heroine, and isn’t always likable, but I respected and understood her.
For a 400+ page novel, this story moves along very quickly due to the mysteries revealed and the danger at hand. AND THE TWISTS! You guys, there’s a plot twist, and I knew there’d be a plot twist, and I love a good plot twist. I kind of saw the plot twist coming, but it was still a great moment. Not to mention the cliff hanger ending, since this is definitely a trilogy. I know, I know…a trilogy with a love triangle, how cliche. How much I’ve complained about such things, right? Well, I take it all back. If Megan Shepherd wants to entertain me with two more hefty love triangle-licious volumes, I’ll read ‘em.
FINAL GRADE: B Wow. I enjoyed this way more than I thought! It loses a few points for a few ridiculous moments related to the romance, and for being a little angsty , but it was a great read. I love when authors play around with classics and bring them into modern storytelling. In fact, I may have been inspired to read The Island of Dr. Moreau next. I actually had HG Wells’ The Time Machine already downloaded to my Audible account, ready to go, so it wouldn’t be a far stretch (plus I’ve already read The Time Machine once, so it can wait).
Assigned Reading: Assigned to fans of HG Wells and anyone who likes creepy, dark historical fiction. I guess the technical genre here is historical sci-fi, but it’s definitely no steampunk. Also recommended to anyone who wants to read a REAL love triangle novel.
Library Recommendations: This would be okay, content wise, for either a middle school or high school library. I think high school students would be quite drawn to the story if you can sell it right. If you are a middle school librarian on a strict, slim budget…skip it. Otherwise, give it a go!
What do you think about classics re-imagined? Is a fun idea, cheap trick, lack of creativity?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we’re talking about books we hope are “modern classics.” We’ve all read the basic stuff in English class, and the great works of years past. Like a hipster, I’m hoping these are books I read and loved before they were classics.
Top Ten Books Written In The Past 10 Years That I Hope People Are Still Reading In 30 Years
[I hope my kids read these one day]
1.) When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead — I want it to be a classic like A Wrinkle In Time. Since it’s so well written, I believe it will have staying power.
2.) The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling (technically counts, since 5, 6, and 7 were written less than 10 years ago) — Duh.
3.) Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys –Beautiful and it covers an aspect of history not covered in other YA novels, I hope this one is read in world history courses in the future.
4.) Looking for Alaska by John Green — John Green’s novels have staying power, especially this one.
5.) Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer — I think about this book a lot. The others, also, but mostly this one. It reminds us how hard it is to survive without our modern-day comforts. In that way, it is timeless. As long as no actual apocalypses occur, I will be recommending it for years to come.
6.) Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt — Great historical fiction is ALL UP ON this list.
7.) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart — I’d like to see kids and adults reading ANY E. Lockhart novel, but Frankie has a special place in my heart. I hope the future is full of smart, sassy girls like her.
8.) Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson — I’m glad our students read this novel in 8th grade US history. I always learned about slavery around the time of the Civil War, but reading about the role of slaves in the American Revolution made me see a whole different side of the issue. Plus it’s just a gripping novel.
9.) The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne — There is a lot of great Holocaust fiction out there, but this one hit me the hardest emotionally. We can never really know the horrors of this time in history, but we can understand a piece of it and try to avoid repeating history.
10.) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – This one almost didn’t make the list, since I’m worried it’s a bit of a fad. But I do want my kids to read about Katniss, and the story is so intense! I realized it would be hard for it to just disappear…I think it will still be around in the future.
Which books do you hope are still being read 30 years from now?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we’re looking at books that we think would make great movies. This can either be due to the desperate desire to see a beloved story/character played out on the big screen or because the book just seems perfectly suited for the theater. I wrote a post about my views on books into movies, which included my favorites and a wish list, so check it out if you get the chance! Here are my top picks:
Top Ten Books I’d Like To See Made Into a Movie
[aka movies I'd pay $15 to see, even though I already know the ending]
1.) Divergent by Veronica Roth
The scene where Tris ziplines down the Chicago skyline from a skyscraper? That alone would be worth it.
2.) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I just want to see the battle room in action.
3.) The Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart
Okay, so this one is purely selfish. I just want to see the cute outfits and you KNOW it’d have a great indie music soundtrack.
4.) The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare
…so I can watch the movie and decide if I really want to read the books.
5.) Bunheads by Sophie Flack
I could watch ballet movies for hours.
6.) The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
This would make an amazing kid’s movie that grown-ups could also enjoy, especially if they put a good budget behind it and did it well.
7.) When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Just imagine all the pieces coming together at the end for a twist and a bang! But I also think the period feel could be done well, and the scenes with the $20,000 Pyramid would be fun.
8.) A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
It could ride the coattails of the Downton Abbey obsession AND the paranormal romance obsession, all in one book. I didn’t ever finish the book, so it would also inspire me to do so.
9.) The Maze Runner by James Dashner
It’s just asking to be made into an action movie with crazy special effects.
10.) Any Agatha Christie Novel
Now here’s a movie franchise I could take part in! I would love to see Christie’s stories OR new stories based on hers told on the big screen in the 21st century. The TV movies and adaptations and whatnot are nice, but they could really kill it (pun intended) with a good budget and some great actors.
Basically I’ll go see any movie that comes out for a book I’ve read. What movie would you like to see on the screen? What movie do you wish you could write/produce?
[Also, note that my book cover collages are back! I found a post-Picnik site that will do them just like Picnik: ipiccy.com!]
The Watch That Ends The Night: Voices from the Titanic
by Allan Wolf
Purchased from Barnes and Noble
[#7 in my 75 book challenge]
How much of a summary do you really need here? Look at the cover — it’s a book about the Titanic. It’s a verse novel with twenty-four voices telling their stories. First, second, and third class passengers, the captain, the lookouts and stokers, and even the rats and the iceberg are represented in these 480 pages. We all know how it ends (SPOILER: The ship sinks), which is what made this book great — I didn’t know who was going to live and who was going to die.
We’ve all heard, read, and seen lots of stuff about the Titanic. It fascinates us. As we enter the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking, lots of new media is being released to profit on that fascination. I’m already seeing it when I go to order books. However, this book won my heart because it showed me angles of the ship’s journey that I had never thought about before. Wolf REALLY did his research when writing the verse and it shows. I had never thought much about the collecting of the bodies, and each section was framed with verses from the undertaker as he collects the bodies from the sea to prepare them for burial. The voice of the iceberg also framed each section quite ominously, representing the inevitability of fate.
The best part, though, was the back matter. Wolf pulled his characters and voices from the real travelers on the Titanic, and he uses the back matter to give as much information as he could about each of these passengers lives (including their lives after the journey, if they lived). He also gives more detailed, objective information about what happened “that fateful night.” His opening to the back matter best describes why he wrote the novel and why it has such a powerful impact on the reader:
“… my aim in writing The Watch That Ends the Night was not to present history. My aim was to present humanity. The people represented in this book lived and breathed and loved. They were as real as you or me. They could have been any one of us.”
Final Grade: A This was a gorgeous and fascinating book. Though it is technically a YA novel, I don’t know how many of my students will really appreciate the complexity in the verse format — but many will enjoy the stories. There will definitely be a library copy ordered in the future (I think I already swapped out a JLG book for it). When the Titanic stuff blows up in the spring I won’t be able to keep any Titanic books on the shelf, including this one. My personal copy of the book was one that I bought, in hardcover, from the bookstore, and I’m glad I own it.
[Also, it really made me want to watch the 1997 movie again.]