Fangirl Book Club Pick of the Month: “Grave Mercy” by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversEvery month, our club votes on which book we will read for that month. November’s winning book was Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy. The following review is based on an online discussion after November’s meeting.

Spoiler-­free Synopsis:

Living in Brittany in 1485, Ismae has escaped a cruel future with her abusive father and an arranged marriage. She finds refuge with a convent – one dedicated to St. Mortain, the god of Death, and she learns that she has been blessed with deadly gifts. If she accepts them, the sisters will allow her to be trained as an assassin and serve as Death’s Handmaiden. First though, she must decide if she is willing to take the lives of those the god marks for death.

Ismae’s final test before taking her vows involves the high court of Brittany, where she must pose as a mistress to Gavriel Duval, a puzzling man who may be guilty of treason. Seduction and acting coy are not Ismae’s preferred skill set, but the stakes are high. The young duchess Anne is under siege from several of her most trusted advisors to accept a marriage alliance from any number of politically savvy, if personally undesirable, suitors. Someone close to Anne is plotting against her and Ismae must discover who it is and what their sinister plans are, all while preventing a devastating war.

Fangirls’ Analysis:

November’s hostess chose this book to be voted on because “it’s one of my favorites on girl empowerment – kind of the theme I went with for choices!” Club members voted for this book because they were interested in the historical aspect of it and because they liked the concept of a convent that serves a god of death.

What We Liked:

We really enjoyed Ismae’s character development throughout the story, especially the challenges to her preconceived ideas and her resolve to become the woman she wants to be. A consistent theme throughout this book is choices. No matter what is happening, there are ALWAYS options.

The author emphasizes strength in individuals, regardless of gender or class, and reinforces appreciation of inner beauty as well as physical. It offers a wonderful representation of a woman coming into her own, despite the biases and limitations of the times. One of our members had this to say: “This book showed that you can still believe in your faith, you just don’t have to do it the way everyone says to.” We also appreciated that the author didn’t shy away from dark, ugly elements in the story. Ismae has a very dark background and as difficult as those scenes might be to read, they gave needed insight into Ismae’s character and added depth to the story as a whole.

What We Didn’t Like:

Because this was based in a real place and the plot ties in closely with real events of that time, we would have liked to see richer descriptions of the clothing, the buildings, and the landscapes of Brittany. Ismae’s convictions are tested, and it appears as though she has no doubts in her superiors until an attractive man gives her reason to consider them. This could be inferred to mean that, for all of her inner strength, Ismae still needed the guidance of a man to reach salient conclusions. A few members also felt that the real villain was too obvious, although that isn’t true for all.

Overall, we think this story is darkly intriguing and several of us have already begun reading the next book, Dark Triumph.

Fangirls’ Rating: 4.75/5 stars.

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Review of “Stray” by Elissa Sussman

Stray by Elissa SussmanA review by Maria.

Stray, a debut novel by author Elissa Sussman was an absolute delight. Reminiscent of the Disney and Grimm stories most children grow up with.

I am grateful for my father, who keeps me good and sweet. I am grateful for my mother, who keeps her own heart guarded and safe. I am grateful for my adviser, who keeps me protected. I am grateful for the Path, which keeps me pure. Ever after.

Princess Aislynn and her peers at the elite academy recite this mantra over and over to keep them on the path set before them. This is the path to grand balls, suitors and a marriage to a husband they will be obedient to and protected by. Their path cannot allow for any common fancies or trysts along the way and absolutely no magic!

Even though girls have ability to do magic it is reserved for the fairy godmothers assigned to every girl for her lifetime. If a girl displays too many acts of magic in life, she is redirected. While fairy godmothers are allowed magic, they were redirected to their station in life by straying from their path and becoming unsuitable for royal society.

Aislynn is prepared for her coming out ball and is excited to find a suitor. But a terrible mistake happens, and Aislynn is shunned by her peers even though she is a royal and is redirected to becoming a fairy godmother. Fairy godmothers are one of the lowest stations in society, slightly above servanthood or becoming a stray. Servants are indebted for life and have magical bonds tethering them to their post. But strays are girls that just vanish, never to be seen or heard from again, either thought to be kidnapped by the rogue queendom or killed.

Aislynn is sent to godmother academy where she must learn how to clean, mend and other chores she’s never had to do before. She also has to do magic the right way, easy and fluid, not big bursts of magic like the episode that got her redirected. She is given her own royal girl to guide as a fairy godmother. Aislynn also finds support in a boy named Thackery. This friendship grew despite a rocky start and helped Aislynn through her toughest moments as training for a fairy godmother. She also uncovers some of the more unpleasant sides to being a fairy godmother.

I adored this novel because while it had all the trappings of a happy fairy tale, it became very dark very quickly. The story flowed very well, but many elements to the world unfolded slowly. Lacking knowledge of this world was maddening at times, but the author always revealed things in due time. Sussman has made a very in-depth  world while still building on magical themes most are familiar with.

The connections in this book were wonderful as well. Even though we barely got to know Aislynn’s parents or fairy godmother for most of the book, her connection to them was painted beautifully though memories. Bridget was an interesting friend who took pity on Aislynn when she needed it most, all because Aislynn showed her the courtesy of remembering her name. Thackery took quite a while to come around and be the male love interest of this story, mostly because Aislynn pretended to be someone else when they first met. But eventually that love story did start to develop slowly and beautifully and Thackery carried his own as a romantic.

If you grew up loving fairy tales, you won’t want to miss this novel!

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review of “Way of Shadows” by Brent Weeks

The Way of Shadows by Brent WeeksA review by Steve.

In The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, Azoth is a guild rat who wants nothing more than to escape that life. He is routinely beaten, threatened, and assaulted for no other reason than he is a poor kid from the wrong side of town. Then along comes Durzo Blint, professional wetboy. If someone needs to be dead, he is the man to go to. He begrudgingly takes Azoth under his wing and trains him. He routinely tells Azoth “Assassins have targets, wetboys have deaders. A target can be missed, but if a wetboy takes the contract, that person is dead. They just don’t know it yet.” Durzo and his associate, Count Drake, change Azoth’s name to Kylar Stern, and pass him off as the spawn of a noble family that lives outside the country to avoid suspicion.

Kylar spends his days learning how to be a noble and how to kill someone in every way imaginable. His only holdup is that he cannot access his Talent, the magical part of one’s body that some people can tap and most wetboys have in spades. As war erupts and alliances start shifting, both Durzo and Kylar must make choices that will affect countless people, but also test the bond of friendship they have developed the last 10 years.

This book, along with next two books in the series, kept me on the edge of my chair. I had a hard time putting it down for the simple fact that it is a smooth read. There are no big lists of characters as there are in other books of this genre (i.e. Game of Thrones), and it makes the plot carry along smoothly with access to much larger details without bogging down in the who’s who. Brent Weeks is great at describing action, drama and even landscapes without overdoing it, all while painting a fantastic picture of what is happening to the characters. I would give anything he writes a try in the future and definitely recommend this book. You won’t be disappointed.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review of “The Girl Who Chased the Moon” by Sarah Addison Allen

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison AllenA review by Danielle.

After Emily Benedict’s mother dies, she is sent to North Carolina to live with a grandfather she never knew she had. As Emily settles into Mullaby, she begins to notice that everyone treats her differently. She starts to wonder if it has to do with her mother. Why did her mother never talk about her life growing up here? How could she not mention Emily’s grandfather? What happened to her mother that would make her leave and never look back? The mystery goes even deeper when Emily meets a boy named Win Coffey. As Emily and Win grow closer, everyone around them becomes intent on keeping them away from each other. When Win tells Emily a devastating secret about her mother, her world is changed forever. Now Emily must find out the truth behind her mother’s complicated past and do everything she can to make it right again.

Julia Winterson came back to Mullaby to settle her father’s estate. Realizing she’d need to pull his famous restaurant out of the red to sell it, she devises a two year grand plan: Bake her amazing cakes in the restaurant to drum up new business, then sell and move back to Baltimore. All she has to do is avoid Sawyer, the boy who broke her heart in high school, and she can make it out of Mullaby free and clear. With the arrival of Dulcie Shelby’s daughter Emily, and her dead set determination to uncover the truth about her mother, Julia’s plan may just have hit the skids. In order to help Emily, Julia has to open the door to her own painful past.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon is the kind of book that makes you dream fondly about the South. Warm summer nights where the air is thick with moisture often leading to the most spectacular end of days thunder and lightning summer storms. The people are polite but stern with social graces, coming to your aid at a moment’s notice but will shun you just as quickly if you dare step outside tradition. There are BBQ places on every corner instead of the usual Starbucks found in every northern city, with lightning bugs and festivals celebrating tradition going back as far as the Civil War. Yes, that is how I imagine the south, and that is exactly the experience you get when reading The Girl Who Chased the Moon.

After setting the tone for a traditional southern small town, the story takes an extremely interesting turn. This is a book that teeters between reality and magical fiction: A gentle giant walking among everyone around town, strange dancing lights in the Mulberry woods, mood wallpaper that changes on its own, and people who have a “sweet” sense, a.k.a. the ability to see the beautiful trail of scent left by a freshly baked cake.  The story revolves around different couples, tied together by the past, present, and future. The symmetry of this story is frankly breathtakingly beautiful. While at first it is difficult to deal with a completely normal story suddenly taking a detour into what seems like paranormal territory, you realize how important those little quirks are in aiding the magical mood this book sets as the story unfolds. This book is a must read for anyone that enjoys romance, traditional Southern culture, magic, and one steamy sex scene.

My rating: 4/5 stars

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Review of “Made For You” by Melissa Marr

Made For You by Melissa Marr

A review by Maria.

I have been a fan of Melissa Marr and her fae stories for years. However, her newest book Made For You is completely different from anything she’s ever done before in Young Adult fiction.

Eva comes from old money, which makes her popular in her small Southern town. She’s going through the motions with her friends and her boyfriend (whom she tolerates rather than loves), living the life that’s expected of her. Eva’s the popular rich girl: attending wild parties, getting drunk all the time, and dating the perfect guy. What she really wants is for her old friend Nate to notice her as more than a friend.

However, everything changes when Eva is struck by a car. She awakens from a coma with the power to see the deaths of people who touch her, which makes her feel like she’s going crazy. In addition, Eva feels alone and ugly because of all the cuts on her face from the car crash. While she’s in the hospital she learns that Nate is also there, and they rekindle their friendship. But Eva’s far from ready to go back to her life, even more so after she learns there’s a killer out there hunting people in her social circle. This means someone might have been trying to kill her in the hit-and-run.

I thought Eva was going to be an unlikable character throughout, but the car accident compels her character and shows her to be sympathetic, strong and interesting. I really liked that every character was damaged in some way in this book before the accident and had opportunities to grow afterward. Eva grew from her visions, and the accident changed the way others viewed her and how she viewed herself. Her parents were striving to be there for her, and Nate allowed himself to open up to Eva and be close to her again. Nate and Eva both change by letting themselves care for each other.

This book was told from multiple points of view: Eva’s, her best friend Grace’s, and the killer’s. Eva’s point of view was always enlightening and helped the reader get to know her. For much of the book I didn’t care for Grace’s point of view, and thought it was unnecessary since nothing different or illuminating ever happened in her POV. However, having her point of view in there eventually helped the story’s flow.

And finally the killer’s (a.k.a. The Judge’s) point of view. This POV was very intense and creepy, something not usually seen in a YA novel. The POV really showed how crazy he was through his obsession with Eva, specifically how he feels that his victims are really love notes to Eva, “made” with the hope that she will love him back. Every murder he committed was a sacrifice to God, hoping that He would repay him with Eva. The twisted combination of murder, love, and religion in his head was unsettling to read and definitely the stuff of nightmares.

This novel was a very entertaining and creepy read. It was nice to see a true romantic-suspense book as a young adult novel. It was great to see author Melissa Marr try something new.

My rating: 3/5 stars. (I read a library copy of this book)

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