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!

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.

Upcoming Reviews

I just received two Advance Readers Copies, both from Penguin Young Readers Group! Exciting. They are Hold Still by Nina LaCour, and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

Some summaries from the back covers:

HOLD STILL — That night Ingrid told Caitling, I’ll go wherever you go. But by dawn Ingrid, and her promise, were gone, and Caitlin was alone. Ingrid’s suicide immobilizes Caitlin, leaving her unsure of her place in a new life she hardly recognizes. A life without the art, the laughter, the music, the joy that she shared with her best friend.

But Ingrid left more than a memory behind. Devastating and hopeful, playful and hopeless. In words and drawings, Ingrid documented a painful farewell in her jounral–just for Caitlin. Journeying through Ingrid’s final days, Caitlin fights back through unspeakable loss to find renewed hope.

A breakthrough new voice in fiction, Nina LaCour brings the changing seasons of Caitlin’s first year without Ingrid to the page with indelible emotion and honesty.

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE — When her fiery older sister Bailey dies abruptly, seventeen-year-old Lennie, bookworm and band geek, is catapulted to center stage of her own life–and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lenni’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Pairs whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

Both of these novels seem to be sort of middle/junior high level books dealing with more serious subjects.

Reviews soon.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

COVER her fearful symmetry by audrey niffeneggerRating: 7 out of 10
Release Date: September 29
Summary: When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers–with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including–perhaps–their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

My Thoughts: I just finished reading my ARC of this novel today, and I had very high expectations because I loved loved LOVED The Time Traveler’s Wife by Niffenegger, and I was really looking forward to reading her next book. Thanks to her agents I was able to get an advanced copy.

It took me a little while to get started on this one, but Ms. Niffenegger has the ability to sort of just enmesh you and absorb you into whatever she is writing about at the moment. There was a lot of old Victorian imagery (the Highgate Cemetery in London, a very central part of this novel), kind of soft and grey, just a little bit romantic, even though the story starts on a funeral, and a lot of that mood just permeated majority of the beginning of the book, so much that when certain modern things popped up, such as Julia or Valentina mentioning Google Earth or anything else really now, I got a little surprised. That was how prevalent the mood was.

I feel like nothing really got started until the middle or the end, and most of the story was just meandering along, following the daily lives of the twins and their neighbors. I really liked the side characters, especially the neighbors: Martin, suffering from OCD, and his absent wife, Marijke. The Little Kitten of Death.

The trials and tribulations of the twins themselves, Julia and Valentina, didn’t really catch me as much. I was sympathetic to their problems, but the plot twists regarding their story, and their famiy’s story, did not especially affect me–a few times it was a little anticlimatic.

Her Fearful Symmetry was more of an ode or a literary devotion to Highgate Cemetery itself–it read like a fascinating place, and I’m sure if I ever visit I’ll be just like one of the clueless picture-taking American tourists that Niffenegger describes as Robert guides tours through the cemetry. Therefore it was less like a plotted novel, which I guess Time Traveler’s Wife was, it was so meticulously plotted and planned and…. anyway.

I wasn’t amazed, which is perhaps a little unfair because, like I mentioned before, I had such high expectations. It didn’t matter too much, because I just like reading the author’s writing… transportive. Some lines she writes really get me, they either describe in the perfect words something I’ve felt before and never could say myself, or present something new that I haven’t thought of before.

Ghostly romantic… and lovely writing.

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

COVER twenty boy summer by sarah ocklerRating: 7 out of 10
Summary: “Don’t worry, Anna. I’ll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it.”
“Okay.”
“Promise me? Promise you won’t say anything?”
“Don’t worry.” I laughed. “It’s our secret, right?”

According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in ZanzibarBay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there’s a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie—she’s already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.

This debut novel by Sarah Ockler that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.

Commentary: I ended up really enjoying this novel even though I didn’t have very high expectations in the beginning.

Good coming-of-age, young adult, dealing with grief story.