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review 2018-10-25 16:19
Grave Mercy / Robin LaFevers
Grave Mercy - Robin 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?

 

My book club’s November selection--it was a lot of fun. It may have suffered a bit in my reading experience because it followed right on the heels of an exceptional book, Daughter of the Forest. By contrast, I found the premise and the plot fun and entertaining in Grave Mercy, but the writing was not quite as lovely.

But still, who can resist a convent dedicated to the old god/saint Mortain (Death)? The concept of a convent teaching assassination skills tickled me right from the beginning. The main character, Ismae, is straight from the turnip farm and begins the adventure tremendously naïve, but she orients herself quickly. I loved her self-confidence and willingness to make difficult decisions.

Best of all, I loved her evolution from the rule-following novice to a woman who learns to trust her own brains. She figures out who the real traitor is and deals with the situation without help or guidance from the Abbess. Ismae’s understanding of Mortain develops and grows with her, as she comes to understand that the old god desires more for his followers, not just simple obedience. He wants them to use their heads and their hearts too.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-10-18 15:00
DNF- So Much Wangst, So Little Action and Immersion

Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

 

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I tried to get into this one and struggled for literally months to finish it, but I give up. This book doesn't hold my attention at all.

 

What intrigued me to pick it up forces me to put it down. Tying the Guy Fawkes legend into an urban fantasy Victorian/Gregorian English setting is an appealing idea, but the lack of urgency in the story, the endless inner monologues and piecemeal explanation for what Color Magic is all about and why there's such trouble between the differing factions will have you losing interest fast.

 

A big letdown for me was the characterization, especially Emma. While the whiny, emo protagonist Thomas was bad enough- granted he had a sense of urgency with his condition, but that only seemed to come whenever the author arbitrarily decided she needed to insert some drama- Emma almost felt like a betrayal. Maybe I missed something, but the sudden reveal of Emma as a black woman killed any further interest I had. It felt cheap & forced, especially when there was not even a hint to this beforehand, so why the deception? To make Thomas seem more sympathetic and juxtapose the rivals/bad guys as more eeeevil. When you club your readers upside the head with cheap tricks to try and make them feel for the characters, you've lost.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-10-11 17:52
Author's Agendas Overwhelm an Interesting Tale (Review: Boudica #1- Dreaming the Eagle)

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(This review also contains an overview of the entire quadrilogy.)
 
As a fan of historical fiction I have no problems with creative license and exploring ideas, especially when there is a shortage of reference material on a topic- in this case regarding the woman known as Boudica, who led a rebel campaign against the Roman legions in Brittania in the 1st century AD. Though we know the eventual outcome, as the saying goes: it's the journey that matters, not the destination.
 
This journey feels like a family vacation you're forced to go on with your new step-parent/siblings, so you brought your stash...
 
There's not a lot of factual info on Boudica herself so author Manda Scott flexes her worldbuilding muscles admirably and fashions a layered Celtic society that starts out exploring themes but quickly turns into pure propaganda. Which is a shame, `cause it coulda been a contender.
 
It's easy to see why Manda Scott is considered one of the better crime drama authors in the UK: multiple story threads weave together creating at times a compelling drama but at others can be obtuse, but not overly so.
 
Real characters and events get submerged beneath the author's iron-willed agenda. There's a clear metaphor of Rome as the Great Western Male-Dominated Ordered Society trying to bring the Celts as the Groovy Bisexual Spiritually-Free Goddess-Loving Individuals to heel. Given that the author is openly lesbian and an advocate of Dream Interpretation, you understand why you're being hit over the head.
 
Instead of Druids and Bards we're treated to Dreamers and Singers- and Dreamers never seem to be wrong... about anything. Along with this comes page after page of spiritual mumbo jumbo centered on animal symbolism, mystic interpretations, moonlight reflections on water, hair in every imaginable hue of yellow- pass the bong, please.
 
The main problem I had with the Dreamers is the lack of explanation for their skills. Yeah- there's some divine power at work here, but for three plus books they're infallible, and only at the end when you know things go wrong do their interpretations suddenly become ambiguous- it's like being at the George Lucas School of Revisionism.
 
**SPOILER ALERTS**
 
There's also the subject of sexuality. Lots of evidence has surfaced regarding Celts and their casual attitudes towards homosexuality, and while I expected it as a sub-theme and incidental to the story it almost overshadows it. Boudica herself is bisexual: her first love is her best friend Airmid, whom she's already having sex with when they're both in their early teens. After endless passages about their longing gazes and vows of eternal devotion there's a teenage breakup spat after which she starts to notice boys, especially Caradoc, son of Cunobelin, the most powerful king. Skip to young adulthood and we suddenly meet Ardacos, who becomes a prominent supporting character and happens to be her first male lover, except that she's already kicked him to the curb... No need to bother with all that messy `coming of age character development' crap while your girlfriend is still hanging around!
 
Marriages are deliberately replaced with sexually open relationships regardless of how many children a couple has- it's entirely up to the woman as to what happens. If it weren't for the historical fact that Boudica did have children, I seriously doubt she would have been given any male lovers in this story. The fate of the children's father shows this- the aforementioned Caradoc- another historical figure whose true final fate is uncertain. His removal from the story, while factually based up to a point, honestly felt like the author didn't know what else to do with him, but needed him to leave. You can hardly run back to the arms of your one true gay love with the father of your children hanging around, now can you?
 
'Tagos, a member of the Eceni (read: Iceni) tribe who grows up with Boudica, turns coward in battle and eventually loses his sword arm and the respect of his peers. His emasculation is forgettable until you realize that he's actually Prasutagos, who is historically known to be the Roman client king of their tribe and whom Boudica is known to be married to (here they only shack up for political purposes) and whose death triggers events that lead to the final assaults against the legions. This ham-handed hack job and attempt to shade his identity from readers is a clear author manipulation to facilitate Boudica's rise to power later in the story: no more weak male rulers, here's a real woman to lead us! 
 
Then there's Cartimandua, a queen who likes to play both sides and another pivotal historical figure who's mentioned and never seen. Needing her support the rebels send emissaries, firstly Caradoc, whom she holds captive for the winter. Caradoc never elaborates about his captivity, though there's lots of innuendo. Venutios tries to use his influence to sway her and marries her to cement ties to the rebels, though she still does as she pleases. Given the significance of these events, it would've helped to see them unfold instead of being referred to in passing... but that would've been heterosexual.
 
I read through the entire series and can't recall one single healthy, nurturing straight relationship that survived the story- if someone doesn't die, it just plain ends badly. Whereas every gay/lesbian pairing is of soul-friends and soul-mates and... well, you get the idea. Case in point: Dubornos, an old friend and rival, likes Airmid, Boudica's lifelong lover. After that disaster there's Cygfa- Caradoc's daughter from another woman- who wants him, yet he doesn't reciprocate. When Dubornos finally develops deep, abiding, lifelong feelings for her, she's long over him and well into... wait for it... a lesbian relationship! You can't make this stuff up... but Manda Scott did!
 
The characterization of children of this story had them so far beyond precocious, I had to laugh. Repeatedly. As another reviewer pointed out- are these kids five or forty-five? A pre-teen boy defeats a grown man at a chess-like game like he's a master strategist instead of playing against one. Boudica herself displaces Venutios, a man over twice her age, as the pre-eminent warrior of the times... because she had a good day of hunting. Boudica's young daughter at the tender age of eight is so wise and prescient that the legendary warrior princess actually defers to her judgment on multiple occasions! Trees died for this shit!
 
The final battle was very poorly handled: in the book the Celts outnumber the Romans by about five to one, and have them hemmed in a valley... and they still lose?!? Even though the Romans had to win, this fight simply made no sense!
 
Lastly, there's the death scene that wasn't. Boudica's final fate is open to conjecture- Roman historians claim she poisoned herself to avoid capture (the author argues that this could be a conceit, as that's what a proper Roman woman would do). Here we get another all-too confusing battle scene to save her daughter's life resulting in a fatal, self-inflicted injury(!). After all, no true heroine could ever be beaten in honorable combat by the male enemy, oh no- far better that they die stupidly! We're not even given the payoff of a final scene: after a hell-ride to reach a final resting place for her all we get is another vision where Boudica bequeaths her legacy to her young daughter before crossing over. Pfft!
 
I know it doesn't seem like it, but there's a lot to recommend here. There's a wealth of detail, flavor and feeling to the story and I always enjoy a different take on a subject. And there's times when the imagery is amazing: in the final book there's a symbolic moment involving a hare that was simply a stroke of genius! I just wished there were more moments like that- less propaganda and proselytizing, and more prose.
 
2.5/5 Stars
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review 2018-10-10 22:13
The Ghost in the Glass House / Carey Wallace
The Ghost in the Glass House - Carey Wallace

In a 1920s seaside town, Clare discovers a mysterious glass house in the backyard of her new summer home. There she falls in love with Jack, the ghost of a boy who can’t remember who he was before he died. Their romance is a haven for her from the cruel pranks of her society friends, especially her best friend, Bridget, who can’t wait to grow up and embark on romances of her own. As Clare begins to suspect an affair between her mother and Bridget's father, she retreats to the glass house. But that haven begins to crack when she realizes that Jack has lied to her about his name . . . From a dazzling and fearless new voice comes a shimmering story full of wonder and mystery, in a world where every character is haunted by lingering ghosts of love.

 

I read this book to fill the Ghost Stories square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

I found this story to be somewhat reminiscent of Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree (or maybe it should be the other way around, since this was published before The Lie Tree.) I think it was a combination of a main character who is starting to question a parent’s choices and the time spent in the cave by the sea, complete with perilous journey to get there.

Strangely, it also reminded me of Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls, with the frenemy relationship between Clare and her BFF Bridget. Clare is a bit like Kate, with her desire to find true love and Bridget is a lot like Baba, longing to experiment with life, excitement, and boys.

Many people say that teenage girls become obsessed with horses when they are looking for a safe outlet for their love and attention. Clare hasn’t got a chance of finding a horse to lavish her care upon, but she finds Jack, the ghost boy in the glass house behind their rented summer home. What could be safer than a ghost for a first real relationship?

Not as strong nor as well written as either The Lie Tree or The Country Girls, it is still a pleasant story and I wouldn’t hesitate to offer it to a young adult.

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review 2018-09-07 18:41
Bloody Jack / L.A. Meyer
Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy - L.A. Meyer

Life as a ship's boy aboard HMS Dolphin is a dream come true for Jacky Faber. Gone are the days of scavenging for food and fighting for survival on the streets of eighteenth-century London. Instead, Jacky is becoming a skilled and respected sailor as the crew pursues pirates on the high seas.

There's only one problem: Jacky is a girl. And she will have to use every bit of her spirit, wit, and courage to keep the crew from discovering her secret. This could be the adventure of her life--if only she doesn't get caught. . .

 

 

”It's easier bein' a boy, 'cause when someone needs somethin' done like holdin' a horse, they'll always pick a boy 'cause they think the dumbest boy will be better at it than the brightest girl, which is stupid, but there you are.”

I liked this book a fair bit, but there were a couple of ways in which it disappointed me. As the quote above illustrates, there is a bit of commentary on the role of women during this time period. The basic plot is quite liberating for Jacky—she impersonates a boy and gets herself a job. She’s a sharp enough observer (trained by her time on the streets of London) to figure out how to pull it off without getting caught right away.

However, Jacky spends more time than necessary, in my opinion, bawling and dripping snot. Because apparently that’s what girls do. I don’t know about you, but my mother was the reserved one of my parents. You could make my dad cry fairly easily, but Mom was the Iron Lady. I remember that she gave me hell for crying too much at her mother’s funeral! She believed in crying in private, on your own, not in public for all the neighbours to see.

The writing style, though somehow strangely appropriate for this tale, didn’t really thrill me. Perhaps that’s because I am far older than the intended demographic for this series. I found it a decent book and a relatively quick read, but I sincerely doubt that I’ll be pursuing the series any further.

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