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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-07-09 07:24
The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
The Grace Year - Kim Liggett

TITLE: The Grace Year

 

AUTHOR:  Kim Liggett

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DESCRIPTION:

"No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.
"

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REVIEW:

 

I enjoyed this book and it was a fast read, but something was off.  Maybe it was the incomplete world building (we never find out how they end up in this situation and there are fast jumps in time where we never find out what happened), or the limited character development and flat secondary characters, or the romance (I didn't find it convincing) or the fact that there is no way this little society can survive with this many woman disappearing from the gene pool in one way or another on an annual basis (unless they breed like rabbits and no one dies from anything else like child birth or disease).  Some of the emotions were intense, the writing was evocative,  and the cult-like aspect of what's going on is not that far off from what sometimes happens in real life.  I loved the flower language - I haven't come across that in decades. The story concept was interesting, but the execution fell a bit flat.  I suspect this will be more to the liking of the teenage girl market than it was to me.

 

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review 2020-06-29 12:25
'The Grace Year' by Kim Liggett - Highly Recommended
The Grace Year - Kim Liggett

One of the best books I've read this year.

A dystopian novel that manages to be both a deeply thought-through vivisection of what patriarchies do to women to keep them powerless and an action-packed, character-driven thriller filled with intense emotions.

 
 

'The Grace Year' is a high impact 'I have to tell EVERYONE to read this' book. You don't just read 'The Grace Year', you experience it and the experience changes you and you want to talk about it but the only people who will get what you're saying are the ones who've read the book. So feel free to stop here, read 'The Grace Year', give yourself a day or two to recover and then come back and read the rest of the review.

The opening of the 'The Grace Year' is irresistible:

 

'No one speaks of The Grace Year. It's forbidden. We're told we have the power to lure grown men from their beds, make boys lose their minds and make the wives mad with jealousy. They believe our very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That's why we're banished for our sixteenth year, to release our magic into the wild before we are allowed to return to civilisation.

 

But I don't feel powerful. I don't feel magical.

 

Speaking of The Grace Year is forbidden but it hasn't stopped me from searching for clues. A slip of the tongue between lovers in the meadow. A frightening bedtime story that doesn't feel like a story at all. Knowing glances nestled in the frosty hollows between pleasantries of the women at the market.

 

But they give away nothing.

 

The truth about The Grace Year, what happens during that shadow year, is hidden away in the tiny slivers of filament hovering around them when they think no-one's watching. But I'm always watching. The slip of a shawl, scarred shoulders bared under a harvest moon, haunted fingertips skimming the pond watching the ripples fade to black, their eyes a million miles away. In wonderment? In horror?

 

I used to think that was my magic, having the power to see things others couldn't, things they didn't even want to admit to themselves. but all you have to do is open your eyes. My eyes are wide open.'

This is an invitation to all of us to open our eyes and see the things we don't want to admit to.

 

This opening left me really wanting to know what The Grace Year was and why it is and if she survives it. I loved the intimate, introspective tone of the Tierney, the narrator. She sounds like someone I'd like to get to know, and of course, I'm intrigued by the content which suggests a thriller and not just ideological symbolism.

 

As soon as I started reading the main body of the text, the tone changed, becoming more personal, more focused on threat and response and much more emotionally intense.

 

The first half of the book, which does the initial world-building and describes the first few months the girls spend in their Grace Year was so thick with fear, rage, spite and betrayal that it was emotionally exhausting to read. The patriarchal cage these women are raised in is wrought in a fine filigree of taboos, violence, public shame and private unvoiced rage but it's as nothing compared to what the women are willing to do to each other when they're alone in their Grace Year.

 

'The Grace Year' is wonderfully written but I found myself reading it in shorter slices than usual because I find the tension hard to take. Kim Liggett is superb at creating a sense of a growing, unnamed but unavoidable dread. 

 

You know that many of the girls on the Grace Year are doomed. You may even be able to guess at the form that the doom will take but that misses the point. That suggests that rationality and analysis and pragmatic compromise could hold the doom back but, as you share the world the girls live in, you know that isn't true because that kind of thinking doesn't take magic into account.

 

The girls have been raised to believe that they will come into their magic at sixteen and that the purpose of the Grace Year is to purge that magic, so they're waiting for it, hoping for it and fearing it at the same time.

 

One of the ways that Kim Liggett makes the tension and the dread so palpable, so hard to bear, is that she focuses on the power of belief. Magic is always based on belief. Faith has power at least in as far as those who have it see the world differently, act differently and judge themselves and others differently. 

 

When the belief is in something benign - treat others as you would want to be treated- all life is precious - then the consequences are more likely to be benign (although the 'all life is precious' can still lead to bombing abortion clinics and 'treat others as you'd like to be treated' can still sustain a regime of unrecognised privilege and make us blind to difference).

 

When the belief is based on the release of a wildness that needs to be purged and that cannot be controlled then the consequence is likely to be violence, the unleashing of hate and fear and the abrogation of individual and collective responsibility. You know that, when the magic ebbs, all that will be left are shame, guilt and stubborn denial.

 

Kim Liggett never articulates this. There are no long passages of ethical discussion. She's the ultimate in 'show, don't tell' and what she's showing feels so real that it's very hard to watch.

 

In the second half of the book, Kim Leggit changes the pace. I won't share the plot details except to say that what happens next goes beyond and comparison to 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'Lord Of The Flies' (Ligett has quotations from both prefacing the book) and goes back to the idea of Tierney having her eyes wide open. What she sees over the remainder of her Grace Year changes everything: what she wants, how she sees the other girls and fuels her rage at and contempt for the men who placed them all in this situation.

 

The ending is... well, I was on the edge of my seat, desperate to know what the ending was. The short answer is 'very satisfactory'. It has the punch of a thriller with a brilliant denouement but it also has a deeper level of thought that gives an insight into how women, stripped of overt power, will still work together to nurture hope and find limited freedom through subversion.

 

Nothing is simple in 'The Grace Year'. It's not painted in primary colours. It's immersive and complex and feels very very real.

 

I listened to the audiobook version and was deeply impressed by Emily Shaffer's narration. She took Kim Liggett's text and delivered the emotion, the drama and the nuanced thought perfectly. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

 

 

And after that, go read the book and then tell everyone about it.

 

https://soundcloud.com/macaudio-2/the-grace-year-by-kim-ligget-audiobook-excerpt

 
 

 

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review 2020-06-04 12:26
The Magical Year
The Magical Year - Danu Forest

by Danu Forest

 

I'm always a little sceptical when a magical author gives themselves a lot of titles, but apparently this one is a member of OBOD, the respected British Order of Druids.

 

As books of the Pagan festivals go, this one is very informative and well written. It gives an overview of the eight annual holidays that are common to both Wicca and modern Druidism, followed by chapters on each of the festivals individually.

 

There's nothing new here, but familiar folklore is presented well and the rituals offered are straightforward and simple. Not too much airy-fairy new age posturing. There are rituals, spells, recipes and crafts to go with each festival.

 

It explains where some holiday traditions come from, like decorating eggs at Easter (Eostre) and symbols and such that experienced Pagans will already know, but it would be a good choice for new Pagans who have yet to learn the significance of these holidays.

 

Best of all it's from a British perspective, so closer to the original cultural references without getting watered down by popularist adaptations, although there are some concessions to choosing your own words or which way you prefer to believe that tries to cater to everyone on a commercial level.

 

Still a good choice for a beginner.

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review 2020-06-01 23:23
Moto and Me
Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat's Foster Mom - Suzi Eszterhas

 Suzi Eszterhas  is a wildlife photographer on the Masai Mara Preserve in Kenya. Suzi is asked if she would like to foster an serval kitten that was brought in by a tourist group after a fire. Suzi readily accepts and takes on the additional role of wildlife rehabilitator to Moto, the serval.  As Moto's adopted mother, Suzi must learn how to care for Moto and teach him how to be a serval in the wild, just like Moto's real mom would have done so he can go back to the wild once more.  

 
Moto and me is a fun and informative inside look at wildlife rehabilitation and the life of a serval.  This nonfiction book is aimed at children aged 5-10.  The pictures were all very cute and obviously amazing, taken by Suzi herself.  They documented Moto's life with her from kittenhood to an adult cat and give readers a chance to see Moto learning how to be a Serval as well as techniques that Suzi used in Moto's rehabilitation.  Along with this are great lessons about African animals, life cycles and the importance of leaving wildlife in the wild.  
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 
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review 2020-05-23 13:40
Year of Wonders ★★★★★
Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks

I came to this book by an NPR article discussing pandemic lit. It's a fictionalized tale of the real English town that, struck by plague in 1665, chose to sacrifice themselves by quarantining the town in hopes of preventing the spread of disease to their neighbors.

 

At least, that's the framework for the story, but the real story is its characters and how they respond to the crisis, how they endure or find strength or break as they lose their neighbors and loved ones. How for some, it's business and opportunism as usual as they use legal means to take a valuable mine from an orphaned child because her dead father can no longer work it or defend it, or price-gouging for grave-digging services when the church graveyard is full and there is a shortage of able-bodied men. How the taverns are always full and the fearful mob inevitably looks for witches to burn. 

 

But it's also the story of neighbors looking out for each other, of a mother rising above the grief of her lost children to care for the dying and deliver the new babies when the doctors flee the town, of the religious leaders look past their fundamental differences to provide leadership to people in need, how a pastor and his wife work tirelessly to minister to the whole town, good or evil of spirit, deserving and undeserving. 

 

There are some odd twists at the end that surprised and angered and disappointed me, but overall the story had me fascinated throughout. 

 

Audiobook via Overdrive, and I strongly recommend you do NOT do this one on audio, because it's read by the author who may be a very good writer but is a terrible narrator, and yet I was so engaged with the story that even her droning voice couldn't put me off.  

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