Review: Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers

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?

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Grave Mercy has the politics of the Game of Thrones series, the action of Graceling, and the magical qualities of Poison Study. Quite frankly, it is one of the best historical YA mysteries I have ever read.

We meet Ismae on the day of her wedding. Her father sold her for three silver coins to a pig farmer in a nearby village. Ismae hopes that because her new husband paid so high an amount for her that he will be gentle with her and she no longer has to suffer beatings like those her father gave her.

When the wedding is over her new husband bades her upstairs to undress, she stays in her chemise. As he comes toward her Ismae is filled with a sense of dread and runs. He catches her and rips the chemise from her body. It is then he sees that she is marked by Death himself. A long scar runs down her back marking her. A remnant of the poison her mother used to try and expel her from the womb. He becomes angry- beats her within an inch of her life and locks her in a root cellar.

The priest who married her to the abusive man comes and steals her away with the help of an herb witch and Ismae begins her five day trip to the convent where she will learn who she really is. Death’s handmaiden, Death’s daughter, and most importantly Death’s assassin. Here Ismae trains for years until she is given an assignment to go with the Duke’s bastard to court and send word back to the abbey of who is against the duchess- the bastard’s sister Anne.

The abbess informs Ismae via crow who to kill along the way and the saint of death marques the targets. It is this time away from abusive men and the convent that Ismae learns there may be other ways to serve her saint- her father than blindly killing anyone with a black mark upon their soul.

The book dragged a bit in the middle, and I would have liked to have seen Ismae be more assassin-ish at times but all in all it was a very intriguing read about a France so distant in memory that the time period isn’t generally covered in school lessons.

Ismae is a great character and strong role model for girls. I highly suggest being the wolf and reading this book.

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Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows come together to bring life to the pages of a book. I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while I was still living in London. The book really brings you into the characters lives, focusing you on the feelings and conceptions of the channel islands that were occupied during the war. Not only is the title brilliant, the way these ladies wrote the book out is exceptionally brilliant. Letters are written from and to a female author Juliet Ashton who was tired of writing fluffy articles about the war even though her pieces were wildly popular.

The book also has the undertones of an amazing love story featuring Juliet, she ends up in Guernsey researching more of these fantastical stories of the occupation, like how the Literary and Potato Peel Society began in the first place. For a London native Juliet became enthralled with the smallness and the quirks that the Guernsey citizens have.

Shaffer passed away in 2008, leaving us this humorous book that took her years upon years to research. The pace of the book is fast and very urgent, it stems a need in the reader to finish reading in one sitting. It is a fun insight into how tragic the occupation must have been for channel island citizens, while at the same time furnishing you with a love for the main character and how she deals with all the information thrown at her. As I said before there is a bit of a love story but it doesn’t take over the book or inhibit the story or the history of the occupation in any way. The book inspired me to learn more about the history of the channel islands in general not just what happened to them in the war.

The book is quirky, smart, humorous, and sad all wrapped in a nice neat little package with an amazing eye catching title. The letters from the citizens and Juliet really show the personalities that these characters posses in an amazing way.

However, the book does seem to have a hard time settling on one specific plot line to the story. That can be easily overlooked or not noticed at all with the elaborate way the book itself is written. I really think it is a shame that Shaffer passed in the aftermath of such an amazing work. I really looked forward to future novels from this author.

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Review: Cecilia, Memoirs of an Heiress, by Frances Burney

Fanny Burney is usually quite overlooked as an author from the old English literature names you usually hear. Everyone loves Austen, Bronte, Dickens, Defoe, and the others you always hear about but Fanny Burney wrote quite a few satire novels in the late 1700′s and early 1800′s. My favorite from her is Cecilia, or Memoirs of an heiress. I appreciate the above mentioned authors and their ability to tell a story with easy and grace, Burney however seems to keep my imagination moving and her plots are complicated while also being very interesting.

The story follows Cecilia, an heiress from Suffolk England. She has three executors to her estate as she was orphaned at an early age. Her uncle’s passing caused Cecilia to be turned over to these three men to handle her income and her social upbringing. She is forced to London to Mr. Harrell’s house and this is when her troubles begin. She is from a good country family but of course she can mix with the London nobility but could never become a part of the family. Ergo she falls madly in love without even realizing it with the son of one of her executors Mr. Delville won’t allow them to marry and after several attempts they all but completely give up. Cecilia has this awful clause in her inheritance that the man she marries must take her last name instead of her taking his. In the late 1700′s era London this would have been impossible for any man of standing. Therefore the couple have problems not only with the parents allowing the marriage but young Delville himself has a small pride issue at hand in taking her name.

In the end Cecilia is driven literally mad, and is locked in a house. Her estate is in ruins and is on the brink of being taken away from her. She has no family remaining and only has the affections of those who her inheritance can profit. This look into the late 18th century London from Burney is very descriptive and well documented. You almost feel like you are walking through the Pall Mall, and the other locations the characters visit. Never has one of the classics brought me into the book so well even with the old time English playing its part. Burney is a masterful storyteller and I truly rate this as one of my favorite novels, It bumped down Jane Eyre that was my all time favorite since I was around 14 or so. If you like classics or reading about the social customs of old England, then you should really pick up this story. I had real tears streaming from my eyes in the last three or four chapters of this book. Even with its massive length and old language it was a story I haven’t easily forgotten. The text seems to stay with you and I hope to see Burney listed with the greats of old language literature more often.

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