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23

Jul

Meg Lytton has always known of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a student of the old magick by her Aunt Jane, casting the circle to see visions of the future and concocting spells from herbs and bones has always been as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the sentence for any woman branded a witch is hanging, or burning at the stake.
Sent to the ruined, isolated palace of Woodstock to serve the disgraced Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and half-sister of Queen Mary, Meg discovers her skills are of interest to the outcast princess, who is desperate to know if she will ever claim the throne. But Meg’s existence becomes more dangerous every day, with the constant threat of exposure by the ruthless witchfinder Marcus Dent, and the arrival of a young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo, to whom Meg is irresistibly drawn - despite their very different attitudes to her secret.
Thrilling and fast-paced, this is the first unputdownable story in a bewitching new series.

Meg Lytton has always known of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a student of the old magick by her Aunt Jane, casting the circle to see visions of the future and concocting spells from herbs and bones has always been as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the sentence for any woman branded a witch is hanging, or burning at the stake.

Sent to the ruined, isolated palace of Woodstock to serve the disgraced Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and half-sister of Queen Mary, Meg discovers her skills are of interest to the outcast princess, who is desperate to know if she will ever claim the throne. But Meg’s existence becomes more dangerous every day, with the constant threat of exposure by the ruthless witchfinder Marcus Dent, and the arrival of a young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo, to whom Meg is irresistibly drawn - despite their very different attitudes to her secret.

Thrilling and fast-paced, this is the first unputdownable story in a bewitching new series.

22

Jul

The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…
Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—
The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.
And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.
Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.

The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.

08

Jun

Callie LeRoux lives in Slow Run, Kansas, helping her mother run their small hotel and trying not to think about the father she’s never met. Lately all of her energy is spent battling the constant storms plaguing the Dust Bowl and their effects on her health. Callie is left alone, when her mother goes missing in a dust storm. Her only hope comes from a mysterious man offering a few clues about her destiny and the path she must take to find her parents in “the golden hills of the west” (California).
Along the way she meets Jack a young hobo boy who is happy to keep her company—there are dangerous, desperate people at every turn. And there’s also an otherworldly threat to Callie. Warring fae factions, attached to the creative communities of American society, are very aware of the role this half-mortal, half-fae teenage girl plays in their fate.

Callie LeRoux lives in Slow Run, Kansas, helping her mother run their small hotel and trying not to think about the father she’s never met. Lately all of her energy is spent battling the constant storms plaguing the Dust Bowl and their effects on her health. Callie is left alone, when her mother goes missing in a dust storm. Her only hope comes from a mysterious man offering a few clues about her destiny and the path she must take to find her parents in “the golden hills of the west” (California).

Along the way she meets Jack a young hobo boy who is happy to keep her company—there are dangerous, desperate people at every turn. And there’s also an otherworldly threat to Callie. Warring fae factions, attached to the creative communities of American society, are very aware of the role this half-mortal, half-fae teenage girl plays in their fate.

30

May

Wednesday Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

This is not your average book about witches: the Cahill sisters live in a alternate New England that is ruled over by the oppressive and overzealous Brothers who seek to rid the world of witches by controlling women. And the Cahill sisters are witches, three sisters that may be the subject of an old prophecy, trying to find a place in their world. A great romance in the style of the Regency and Gothic romances, and a exciting new take on the world of witchcraft and religion in colonial times, Born Wicked was a delight to read and a heart-wrenching beginning to a new series.

The three sisters offer a wonderful diversity: Cate is the oldest and the most sensible, taking care of her younger sisters in the wake of their mother’s death and giving up her own hopes in the process; Maura is the middle sister, with her head in a book every chance she gets, grand dreams of the world outside their little town, and a distaste for everything the Brothers say is good and proper for a woman; Tess is the youngest, new to her magic and eager to learn, simply wishing for her family to be stable and happy. The story is told from Cate’s perspective, but we get a good dose of both of her sisters through her eyes. Though she is always calling Tess the most perceptive, Cate is well tuned to her sisters desires and needs, perhaps more so than even her own.

This is certainly a romance from the very start—Cate is mere months away from having to choose a husband or join the Sisterhood (the nuns associated with the Brothers), and her options are limited. Paul, her childhood friend, is home from University and seeking her hand, but friendship has not turned to love for Cate like it has for Paul. Then the ginger-haired, freckled, book-loving Finn enters her life and Cate finds that love is something wild and wonderful and worth fighting for. But as the date of her seventeenth birthday approaches, the world narrows in on Cate and she discovers that simply choosing to love someone does not solve all your problems.

While it is certainly a romance, Born Wicked is also a mystery. The sisters’ mother was also a witch, but she was able to teach them very little before she died. Now years later Cate receives a mysterious letter telling her to seek her mother’s diary, and when she finds the hidden journal, Cate finds that her and her sisters’ lives are far more complicated than she ever imagined. Because they are not just budding witches hiding from the Brothers: they are also the subject of an old prophecy, one that says they will either bring about a new golden age of witches, or a second terror of the Brotherhood.

My favorite part about this book was the world building. Cate and her sisters live in an alternate version of New England. There is no United States, and the rest of the colonies are still controlled by the Spanish. The world is vast and grand, with trade stretching all the way from New Mexico City to the shimmering desserts of Dubai. While Cate and her sisters chafe in the constrictions of their world, they hear about the wonders of the outside world, where women roam free in trousers, taking lovers where the wish, and keeping their own money. These freedoms once belonged to the women of New England when witches ruled the land, and the prophecy about Cate and her sisters promises that this freedom could return again. Jessica even touches on issues of sexuality with her world building, spreading stories throughout her grand world, and then bringing it solidly home and terrifyingly real for the girls of her story. Freedom for the girls of New England isn’t just about choosing who you marry: it’s about choosing everything you do in your life.

This was certainly not the most rough-and-tumble action-filled story, but it was very well-written and engaging in its own sort of quiet of way. The ending will have you glued to your seat until the very last page, and then leave you frustratingly desperate for more.

26

Apr

A signed copy of Grave Mercy

25

Apr

Review of Grave Mercy from The Book Wurm

Synopsis:

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?

Review:

Right now I shall attempt, with all the skill I have in my arsenal as a somewhat itinerant reviewer (okay, not really, I just wanted to use that word) to give you wonderful people my thoughts about the book that is being touted by (mostly) all and sundry as the next best thing since sliced bread (being a non-native English speaker, I fail to see why sliced bread is so wonderful but that just might be my failing as a heathen). Anyway, forgive the digression and let’s turn ourselves to the glorious bounty that is Grave Mercy, the first in what is definitely a trilogy.

What did I think about it?

Well, to be completely honest (so help me God), at first? Not much. I have, as you might not know, very little fondness for romance novels (which is not to imply that they don’t tell a good story because they do but I’ve read too many of them) and Grave Mercy really resembled a romance novel disguised as a YA novel. Okay, what I mean by this is – the focus was on the romance and I was like “Ehhhhh!” Don’t get me wrong, I like romance in YA, in fact, it might be a requirement for me but I don’t want the focus to be on it. What I mean by my babbling is that for a while Grave Mercy and I were at odds with me saying “please, do go on” while Grave Mercy said “but I want to discuss how he sits in my bedroom while I’m sleeping and there’s no sexytimes.” Ya know?

But then, Ismae, who had been about to join the hallowed ranks of Heroines Who Annoy Nafiza (it’s a long list) became fantastic.

I kid you not.

It’s like LaFevers decided a quarter into the book that her heroine needed more to be more (yes, I am quite articulate tonight) and so she gave her more. And I was like “YES, KILL THAT VILLAINOUS BASTARD!” I love heroines who kick ass and dear people reading this review and refraining from rolling their eyes, Ismae kicked ass and she kicked plenty of them. And I even liked the romance. LaFevers managed to tamper what could have been a mushfest and made the book more about the kingdom, the dynamics, the politics, delicious stuff like that and less about heaving bosoms and moony eyes.

The pace was quite exhilarating because things kept happening (after the first quarter, that is). There was no lull in the narrative where they watch daisies grow or curl up in a ball and bemoan their broken hearts. They are on the brink of a war and things just…happen. (Yes I know, don’t be intimidated by my eloquence.) I liked the characterizations, the pacing, and the plot (more elaboration this later). The writing felt a bit raw and I thought that the chapter transitions could be a bit smoother though this just may be because I was reading the ARC version.

I liked how LaFevers managed to sustain a skein of realism into something that is clearly fantastic. Oftentimes happy endings are too happy and tie up so neatly that they ruin the entire book but the term “pyrrhic victory” applies to this novel and I appreciated that. I didn’t think the violence was excessive nor did I feel that the sexytimes in the book was forced or illogical (you shall understand after you read the book and then if you want to discuss it, I shall happily oblige).

And I cannot freaking wait for the next story. Sybella sounds just as kickass as Ismae except in a crazier sort of way. I like insane. And I wonder if it features Beast. I hope so. Unlikely protagonists make me happy.

Do I recommend this book? Yeah I do, just stick with it through the somewhat slow beginning and it will pick up and stun you with its awesomesauciness.

From The Book Wurm

24

Apr

Kirkus Reviews on Grave Mercy

Fiction and history coalesce in a rich, ripping tale of assassinations, political intrigue and religion in 15th-century Brittany.

When the pig farmer who paid three coins to wed Ismae sees the red scar across her back, he cracks her in the skull and hurls her into the root cellar until a priest can come “to burn you or drown you.” The scar shows that Ismae’s mother poisoned her in utero; Ismae’s survival of that poisoning proves her sire is Mortain, god of death. A hedge priest and herbwitch spirit Ismae to the convent of St. Mortain, where nuns teach her hundreds of ways to kill a man. “We are mere instruments of Mortain…. His handmaidens, if you will. We do not decide who to kill or why or when. It is all determined by the god.” After Ismae’s first two assassinations, the abbess sends her to Brittany’s high court to ferret out treason against the duchess and to kill anyone Mortain marks, even if it’s someone Ismae trusts—or loves. Brittany fights to remain independent from France, war looms and suitors vie nefariously for the duchess’ hand. Ismae’s narrative voice is fluid and solid, her spying and killing skills impeccable. LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy.

A page-turner—with grace.

From Krikus Reviews

23

Apr

Dear Robin LaFevers

From Dear Author

Dear Ms. LaFevers,

One advantage of being offered books for review is that it has made me more adventurous as a reader. Even reading a bad book has some value to me if I can get a review out of it, so it’s not as much of a risk for me to take a chance on an unknown author.

I requested a copy of Grave Mercy on a whim; the blurb intrigued me. It is not a bad book, but I can’t say it was very successful for me. While the concept is interesting indeed, the execution felt strangely flat.

The story is set in 14th century Brittany, in an alternate world that diverges somewhat from historical fact (the world also contains some magical elements). Ismae is 14 years old and about to be forced into marriage to a brute by her equally brutish father. Rumor in their small village has long held that Ismae’s father is not her real father at all, and that she was instead sired by the god of death himself, St. Mortain. This is supposedly the reason that Ismae’s (long-gone) mother tried to abort her; obviously she didn’t succeed but Ismae bears a long, ugly scar on her body as a reminder of the poison that failed to expel her from the womb.

Ismae’s wedding night goes awry and she is beaten and then locked in a cellar by her husband; she is rescued by the very same herbwitch who had tried to abort her years before, and taken to the Convent of St. Mortain. Here Ismae discovers her value, as well as some special gifts. For one, she is largely impervious to poison; what would quickly kill another might make her mildly sick for a brief time. As the story unfolds, Ismae discovers other powers that touch on her unique relationship with death.

The nuns of St. Mortain train their charges to be assassins in the service of their god. (Mortain is called a saint to make him fit – more or less – into the Christian pantheon, but he and other saints were clearly repurposed from an earlier belief system.) For Ismae, serving Mortain means working with poisons and learning other skills that will make her deadly. When she is 17, she is sent out to make her first kill; her target is a traitor working for the French against the interests of Brittany’s ruler. The job goes off fairly successfully and Ismae is relatively free of guilt, which I appreciated.

The nuns of St. Mortain have various resources at their disposal that help them determine who to target for assassination. The convent has an elderly nun who acts as a seer. The assassins themselves can perceive a “marque” on the bodies of their victims that confirms that they are marked by St. Mortain for death (usually in the form of a shadow or smudge that may appear in the spot where the killing blow is eventually struck). It becomes evident though that the nuns are politically connected as well, and at least some of the killings (specifically, those that Ismae is involved in) are linked to the struggle between France and Brittany and perhaps based on information from outside sources who might have their own agendas.

Ismae struggles with her gratitude to the convent, her desire to be obedient, and her sense, which grows stronger as the book progresses, that the nuns of St. Mortain are not as infallible in their judgments as she’s been led to believe. Her disquiet increases when she is given an important assignment: she is sent to the court of Anne, Duchess of Brittany, the ruler whose control of the realm is threatened by the French. Ismae accompanies Gavriel Duval, a young and serious noble who happens to be Anne’s illegitimate half-brother. Ismae has been warned to keep an eye on Gavriel as the convent suspects he may be acting against Anne’s interests, but the idea of having to eventually perhaps kill him becomes more difficult as the two grow closer.

There’s a lot going on in this book – there is Ismae’s coming-of-age, as a woman and an assassin, the mythology of the alternate world the author creates, with its unfamiliar saints and fables, and there’s political intrigue. A lot of political intrigue. I’m not opposed to political intrigue as a matter of course, but I think it interests me more when it involves real history. Even so, fictional historical intrigue could be made interesting to me, but this just wasn’t that intriguing. Anne (who I was suprised to realize, late in the story, is much younger than I’d thought – around 12) is beset by potential enemies at every turn. She needs to marry to secure her kingdom’s safety from the French, but none of the prospects are appealing (the most persistent one is a dirty old man old enough to be her grandfather). She can’t trust all her advisers, but she doesn’t know which are truly and actively working against her and which are merely trying to push her in one direction or another for personal gain or because they honestly believe they are acting in Brittany’s best interests.

When I read back the description of the plot so far, I keep thinking that this sounds like a great book. That it wasn’t great isn’t attributable to any one thing, but a dozen small pieces that are missing: a great heroine, a great hero, a compelling love story, an intriguing villain, sparkling writing, a conflict worth taking a rooting interest in, surprising plot turns, a fantasy world that really came alive. If even a few of those elements were there, the book would’ve worked a whole lot better for me. As it was, it’s a book with a great set-up that was mediocre in every other way.

I would’ve liked Ismae better if she had been better at being what she was trained to be. In a way, her hesitancy was understandable: when the bulk of the story takes place Ismae has a handful of kills under her belt, and she’s still just 17. But one does get so tired of heroines who end up being something less than the bad-asses they were advertised to be. Readers who are ambivalent about assassins or tough heroines may actually prefer Ismae as she is. I don’t necessarily favor kick-ass heroines over other types, but once I expect a heroine to be kick-ass I get excessively annoyed when she doesn’t deliver. Ismae wasn’t incompetent, but she was far from kick-ass. For an assassin, she’s really kind of insipid. The most remarkable thing about Ismae is that she’s good at not dying of poison, and that’s not really something she gets the credit for.

The relationship between Ismae and Gavriel is pretty tepid. They are obviously attracted to each other but have so many missed connections that their romance quickly became frustrating to read about. I wondered how old Gavriel was supposed to be because at times he’s portrayed as sort of romance-hero-supercompetent, which suggested that he was a bit older (closer to 30), but other times he seemed quite young. I didn’t actually want him to be that old because Ismae is really a pretty young and sheltered 17-year-old, for all that she kills people for a living.

I couldn’t decide if the YA designation was appropriate for this book or not. The assassin theme would probably relegate it to suitability for older teens, mostly, but I’m not sure they’d be that interested in all of the political intrigue (I mean, I wasn’t that interested in the political intrigue). There was a certain lack of sophistication and complexity in the writing that’s reminiscent of other YA books I’ve read, which I guess is not exactly a compliment, but what I’m trying to say is that it did read like a YA to me in some ways. Even when serious things happen – murders, attempted rapes, attempted murders – it didn’t really feel too intense or scary. I think the writing felt like it was for a younger teen but the plotting for an older one. There was one very discreet sex scene.

Ultimately, the problem with Grave Mercy was that in spite of the intriguing possibilities presented by the concept, the book itself was just bland. My grade is a C.

Best regards,

Jennie

22

Apr

Review of Grave Mercy from Dark Faerie Tales

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?

Quick & Dirty: Brittany, with its complex politics and old religion, is brought to life in this medieval world of assassins and betrayal.  This page-turner has all the romance and mystery a reader could ask for!

Opening Sentence: I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

Nun assassins.  With those two words I was already hooked into this book.  I mean, talk about something I’d never read before.  But these aren’t your average nuns, instead they are followers of the old gods who use the convent as a way to practice their religion while escaping persecution.  A good way of keeping anyone with strong religious sensibilities from being offended, in my opinion, and it works as a great plot point. This book begins on an ominous note, with Ismae being sold into marriage to a pig farmer who will be as abusive as her father was.  But let me start by saying that it isn’t overly violent by any means, despite being about assassins.

An unwanted spawn of Mortain, the god-turned-saint of death, she is hated by all those who recognize her.  It isn’t until her wedding night that she’s secreted away to a convent and joins her fellow daughters of Mortain.  After she passes the tests and is healed from the abuse inflicted by the pig farmer, she begins her training.

Poisons, hand-to-hand, knives, crossbows, all the wiles a woman might need to when sneaking around in a pub or a ballroom are taught at the convent.

But tensions are running high between France and the Duchy of Brittany, especially when it comes to Anne the future Duchess.  There are spies and schemes that make it clear no one can be trusted at court.  No one has Anne’s best interests at heart, or even that of the duchy.  Except perhaps Gavriel Duval, Anne’s abrasive half-brother.  Originally sent to court to determine Duval’s loyalties it quickly becomes clear that he might be the only one who is exactly what he seems.  Far from the convent and the sisters’ guidance, Ismae is forced to rely on her instincts and the Marques of Mortain to guide her hand.

The marques are shadows that stain a person’s skin in a manner reflecting their death.  If a marque is on your lip, you might be poisoned or smothered.  The convent uses these marques to determine the will of their father, who should live and who to kill.  As the politics in court great on Ismae’s nerves and instincts, her hunt for marques becomes more intense and even less fruitful.  But Ismae is first and foremost a daughter of Mortain, she will always let his hand guide her actions.  When the convent sends a note for Duval to be killed, Ismae finds herself questioning their orders and for the first time wondering exactly how the marques work, as well as whether the convent has their facts straight.

By no means is Ismae the only daughter of Death haunting the world of Brittany’s court.  Her friend Sybella is seen, once, on the fringes of the world Ismae must now inhabit.  But without any way to make contact and Sybella’s mysterious words haunting her, Ismae begins to wonder exactly what kind of mission the convent sent Sybella on all those months ago.  And what, if anything, it has to do with making Anne duchess.

I am not a huge fan of political books, but Grave Mercy did a great job of drawing me into the world of backstabbing politicians and courtly intrigue.  Sometimes it was hard to remember that Ismae is barely seventeen and Anne is twelve. They live in a world where girls are forced to be women quickly, and LaFevers does a great job of balancing their youth and their responsibilities.  Ismae and Duval’s relationship developed gradually, as each proved their trustworthiness to the other and tentatively showed their vulnerabilities. I loved being able to see Ismae as the assassin and as the young woman who’d been betrayed by every man in her life.

Notable Scene:

“We punish those who betray our country.” My words are as soft and tender as a lover’s caress, and Martel shudders as death claims him.

Just as I relax my grip, a thick warmth rises up from his body and rubs against me, like a cat rubbing its owner’s leg. Images fill my mind: a fleet of ships, a sealed letter, a heavy gold signet ring, my own breasts. The warmth swirls briefly within me,  then dissipates with a sudden whoosh, leaving me chilled and shaken.  what in Mortain’s name was that?

His soul. 

The words come unbidden. Almost as if someone else — the god, perhaps? — has spoken them.

Why has no one at the convent warned me of this? Is this one of the glories of Mortain that Sister Vereda spoke of? Or something else? For I cannot decide if I have just been violated in some way or granted a sacred trust.

But I have no time for reflections. I shove my questions aside and brace myself against the man’s body, trying to balance his weight as I unwrap the garrote from his neck. I wipe it clean on his doublet, then retract the wire into the bracelet. With both hands free, I prop the body up against the window and peer down to the courtyard, praying that the cart Chancellor Crunard promised is there.

It is.

I grasp the traitor by his collar and begin the difficult task of shoving his body through the window.

Read Full Review

04

Mar

COVER WATCH: Ironskin by Tina Connolly