Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Summary: Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of 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 destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, 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?

Commentary: I was pretty excited to read Grave Mercy–assassin nuns in medieval France? Definitely not something that’s been done before. I was drawn in from the very first chapter, but then my interest sort of petered off, and I’m not exactly sure what went wrong.

While the premise of the novel was certainly interesting, I felt like the author didn’t deliver. I had a hard time connecting emotionally with our narrator, Ismae, whether because of the awkward and kind of stumbling narration, or because she was just kind of flat as a character. We see that she escapes from her horrible arranged marriage, but her transformation to a full-formed character never happens. I wasn’t able to relate to any of her emotions and was never fully pulled into her trials and travails,which means the romance also fell completely flat for me.

I did enjoy the historical aspect of this novel, however, and appreciated the political intrigue between Brittany and France.

Overall, Grave Mercy had a very interesting premise but failed to deliver fully. Really fabulous cover though, I have to say.

Grave Mercy is the first in a series, but I don’t think I’ll be following up with the rest of the novels.

Author Website: http://www.robinlafevers.com/
How did I get this book? The public library!

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21 books read since my last update

… but no reviews! How sad. This is going to be another one of your typical “Oh I got busy and couldn’t keep up this blog” posts. But it’s so true. And I’ve gotten kind of used to it. I review like crazy during the summer and when I’m on break from school, but when classes are in full swing, it’s honestly just impossible. Here’s a list of the books I’ve read since my last review in August (so long ago!)

  1. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (re-read)
  2. In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce (re-read)
  3. Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
  4. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (re-read)
  5. Nightspell by Leah Cypess
  6. The Lovers by Vendela Vida
  7. The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta
  8. The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier
  9. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta (re-read)
  10. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (re-read)
  11. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
  12. Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs
  13. Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs
  14. Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs
  15. Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs
  16. River Marked by Patricia Briggs
  17. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
  18. Shut Out by Kody Keplinger
  19. Eve by Anna Carey
  20. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
  21. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

As you can see I barreled my way through the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. I have said previously that I prefer her Alpha & Omega series, because I once tried Moon Called and wasn’t a fan (I didn’t get very far into it). However, I am so glad I tried it out again! I ended up completely sucked in and read the entire series in like a week. Now I’m a big fan.

I’ve also been reading a lot of new YA novels. I just finished The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer–I have never read a book where in one sentence, I am terrified to the point of paralysis, and in the very next sentence, I’m laughing out loud. Michelle Hodkin has definite talent. This book started out one way, and kind of evolved into a whole new, but no less amazing, piece of work. Everything came together so perfectly in Mara Dyer, except for that torturous cliff hanger! I must know what happens next! Highly recommended.

Carson’s debut, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, was a little simpler but still entertaining. I very much enjoyed the heroine, Elisa, and her development and progress throughout the novel. Also–a heroine who is also overweight, in a fantasy novel? Not done very often. And by that, I mean that usually books about overweight protagonists focus on being overweight. You never really get a fantasy or science fiction heroine who, as a sideline, happens to be overweight (as in, her weight is not the focus of the story). I applaud Carson. And really, it shouldn’t need applauding, it shouldn’t be so new/strange, but it is I suppose.

Eve by Anna Carey was a dystopian YA that I enjoyed. Writing style aimed a little younger than Mara Dyer, but still very enjoyable. I was definitely emotionally involved, especially near the end. Another one that I must keep an eye out for the sequel.

I read Keplinger‘s debut, The DUFF, and reviewed it awhile ago and became a big fan of hers. Same here with Shut Out. Interesting plot, interesting heroine, great messages for teenage girls. Keplinger should be on every elementary/middle/high school library’s bookshelves.

I also have a lot of re-reads on there. I love re-reading my favorite books during the summer. It’s like seeing old friends again.

But a new one was The Lovers by Vendela Vida, which I can describe as sort of a perfectly formed, perfectly clear cup of tea. Not sure how else to put it. I was first introduced to Vida through her earlier book, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, also perfect.

Probably won’t be able to update again until December!

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Summary: Estha and Rahel are twins born eighteen minutes apart in India. When they are seven years old, their cousin Sophie Mol visits from England; a cataclysmic event happens which tears the family apart. Estha and Rahel are reunited again years later as adults, and must deal with the fact that when they were young, their lives were destroyed by the “Love Laws”, which lay down the rules of “who must be loved, and how, and how much”.

My Thoughts: No summary could do this book justice. Winner of the 1997 Man Booker prize, Roy’s novel completely blew me away. I was bored by the synopsis on the back cover, but thought I would give it a try anyway (not that I had much choice; I was in Guatemala with a very limited number of English books).

Roy creates a lush, enveloping, buzzing, and foreshadowed world in The God of Small Things. She tells the story out of chronological order, and continuously references the event known as The Loss of Sophie Mol, a mysterious happening that everyone tiptoes around. There are flashbacks and tangents all over the place. Webs of stories and snippets of life spread out everywhere. Even now, after finishing it, I’m not sure how she pulled it off. It was a delicate net that settled down over me. And it worked. Perfectly. Tragically.

I wouldn’t describe many books as A Work of Art, but The God of Small Things definitely was.

The God of Small Things is about love, and forbidden love, and class, and betrayal. There is also history and politics, smoothly woven into the background of India, where the story takes place.

Highly recommended. Strange and different from anything else I’ve ever read. Another best book read in 2011.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Summary: Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening — until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage.

But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.

My Thoughts: My first Ann Patchett novel, purchased from the only English bookstore in the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenango!

I was hooked from the beginning–and while the story was certainly gripping and nerve-wracking, it was also stately, and slow in some way. Kind of like appreciating a good aria; I use this metaphor due to the opera theme of Bel Canto. At the same time you knew that there wasn’t really a possibility for a truly happy ending, so you read it and you desperately want to know what happens; but you also don’t.

There are some very interesting characters, among both the hostages and the terrorists. There’s Carmen, the teenage girl terrorist entranced by the linguistic abilities of Gen the translator. And Roxanne Coss herself, the famous soprano.

Bel Canto made me want to re-visit some favorite opera songs like O Mio Babbino Caro, and a few from Aida.

I’ll be picking up more from Ms. Patchett.

Author Website: http://www.annpatchett.com

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Summary: Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

My Thoughts: Very gripping story about an event in history that I personally have never heard of.

The narration alternates between the 1942 and 2002 viewpoints–some might find this kind of confusing, and at times one was stronger than the other. Overall I didn’t mind it too much, and I thought it kept things fairly interesting.

Apparently now it’s a movie.

Author Websitehttp://www.tatianaderosnay.com/