Review and GIVEAWAY: Mortal Heart

Mortal HeartRobin LaFevers, Mortal Heart

This final book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy focuses on Annith, one of the most skilled novices at the convent of St. Mortain in medieval Brittany. She has lived her entire life in the convent but yearns to be sent on her first mission to the outside world, so that she can finally use her skills to serve the god of death. But the abbess has stubbornly kept her in the convent while allowing other, less skilled novices to go out on missions. When Annith hears that the abbess intends to make her the next Seeress, effectively locking her within the convent walls forever, she decides to leave the convent and find her own way to serve Mortain. Along the way she runs into a group of hellequin, doomed souls who can only redeem themselves by ushering the spirits of the dying into the afterlife. At first the hellequin terrify Annith, but she soon grows closer to their mysterious leader, Balthazaar. Will Annith be able to overcome her past, including the secrets the abbess is keeping, and forge her own destiny?

I was a big fan of Grave Mercy and, to a lesser extent, Dark Triumph, so I jumped at the chance to grab this galley at BEA! Unfortunately, I wasn’t completely enamored with the book, although I’m having a hard time pinpointing why. For one thing, the plot doesn’t have much forward momentum; there’s a lot about Annith’s past and the secrets hidden in the convent, but her current journey is much less interesting. I also found Balthazaar underwhelming as a romantic lead. There’s just no spark between him and Annith, possibly because the book spends so much time in the past. And although his big secret makes total sense in the world of this series, it made me less enthusiastic about him and Annith as a couple. That said, I do think the book is a good resolution to the series as a whole, providing some closure on all the main characters and resolving the dangling plot threads from earlier books. So I’d certainly recommend this novel to fans of the series, but I still think the first book, Grave Mercy, is the best.

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WIN THIS BOOK

Since I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to read this book, I’d like to give someone else a  chance as well. So with that in mind, I am offering one lucky winner my advance reader copy of Mortal Heart. It’s only been read one time and is still in great shape, I promise! 🙂 Here’s how to enter:

  • Comment on this blog post between now and July 3, 2014, at 11:59 p.m. (Eastern time). Be sure to mention that you are entering the giveaway!
  • One entry per person, please!
  • This giveaway is limited to US readers only. (I know, I know, sorry!)
  • The winner will be chosen randomly, and I’ll announce the results in a new post sometime on July 4.

And…that’s it! Good luck, everyone!

Review: Jackaby

JackabyWilliam Ritter, Jackaby

Abigail Rook has just arrived in the New England town of New Fiddleham with nowhere to go and no way to earn a living. As she sits in a tavern and ponders her next move, she encounters a strange man who turns out to be R.F. Jackaby, a private investigator with an extraordinary gift for detecting paranormal activity. Abigail’s talent for observation lands her a job as Jackaby’s assistant, and she is immediately embroiled in the investigation of a gruesome murder. Jackaby is convinced that the killer is supernatural, but the police scoff at the very idea — except for one young detective named Charlie Cane. With Cane’s help, Jackaby and Abigail pursue the investigation, encountering a banshee, a helpful madwoman, and a possible bridge troll along the way. Meanwhile, Abigail relishes the excitement of her new job, but several people warn her to stay away from Jackaby. She wants to keep her job, but will it cost her her reputation — or even her life?

Despite the fact that this book is classified as YA or even middle-grade, I really enjoyed it! The book is narrated by Abigail, a plucky protagonist who is suddenly thrown into a magical world with nothing but her wits to rely on. I like that she is basically ordinary; though smart and brave, she doesn’t have superpowers, so she is very relatable as she encounters the surprises and challenges of this world. Jackaby is a really fun character as well, with more than a few similiarities to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes! I also loved the richly imagined world of this novel, especially the random little gags that didn’t have much to do with the main plot, such as the frog in Jackaby’s office, or what happened to his former assistant. The mystery itself was fairly easy to solve — I figured out whodunnit almost as soon as the guilty character was introduced — but the fun of the book is the characters and setting. I’d definitely recommend this book to fans of historical fantasy, and I’m looking forward to the sequels!

Once Upon a Time VIII Challenge Wrap-up

Yesterday marked both the first day of summer and the last day of Carl’s Once Upon a Time VIII challenge.

once upon a time viii

Participants were encouraged to read books that fit within the genres of fantasy, fairy tales, mythology, and/or folklore. Here’s what I read:

  1. Polly Shulman, The Grimm Legacy
  2. Lauren Owen, The Quick
  3. Anne Sexton, Transformations
  4. Juliet Marillier, Blade of Fortriu
  5. William Ritter, Jackaby
  6. Robin LaFevers, Mortal Heart

My favorite book in the bunch was either Jackaby (think BBC “Sherlock” plus paranormal beasties for a YA audience) or Mortal Heart (final book in a trilogy about lady assassins in medieval Brittany). My least favorite book was The Grimm Legacy, which had a cool premise but just felt too juvenile for me. If you participated in this event, what were your favorite books? Did you read as much fantasy as you wanted to?

Edited to add: I have now reviewed all the books I read for this challenge; see the links above!

Review: Blade of Fortriu

Blade of FortriuJuliet Marillier, Blade of Fortriu

In this sequel to The Dark Mirror, King Bridei of the Priteni believes his mission is to eradicate the Gaels and their Christian religion from his lands. He is a strong king, brave in battle and devout in his allegiance to the old gods, so he’s the ideal person to unite the Priteni against this outside threat. Bridei is planning a big move against the Gaels, but in order to succeed, he needs the help of a foreign chieftain named Alpin. Bridei therefore proposes to offer his royal hostage, Ana, to Alpin as a bride, hoping this will ensure his loyalty. Ana longs to marry for love, but she knows she has no choice in the matter. She sets out for Alpin’s lands in the company of Faolan, Bridei’s most trusted bodyguard, spy, and assassin. As Ana and Faolan travel together, their relationship deepens, but she is already promised to Alpin. And when she finally arrives at Alpin’s court, Ana discovers a shocking secret that will have drastic implications for both Bridei’s campaign and her own heart.

Much like its predecessor, The Dark Mirror, this book is very slow-paced, and I had trouble getting into it as a result. I find the world of this series fascinating; it’s based on historical facts (the Priteni were real, and Bridei really was their king for a time), but Marillier weaves many fantastical elements into the setting. Half the novel focuses on Ana’s story, while the other half follows Bridei’s campaign against the Gaels. Personally, I was much more interested in Ana’s story, especially since I always enjoy a little romance with my fantasy! Interestingly, the story seems very predictable at first, but it eventually veers into an unexpected direction. I wasn’t entirely pleased with the resolution of Ana’s story, but it does provide some interesting avenues to explore in the final book of the trilogy. I’ll definitely be reading The Well of Shades to see how everything turns out, but I don’t think this series is Marillier’s best work. Try her Sevenwaters books instead!

Review: Transformations

TransformationsAnne Sexton, Transformations

This book is a collection of poetry, and I don’t really know how to review it, or even whether “reviewing” is appropriate for something that is supposed to strike you in a fundamental, visceral way. The poems are all re-imaginings of fairy tales as told by the Brothers Grimm, and Sexton uses the old stories to shed light on modern themes and concerns. For example, here’s the end of “Cinderella”:

Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
That story.

The stories are all set in that quasi-medieval fairytale past, which is interestingly juxtaposed with some very modern language. When the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” is cooked in the oven, “Her blood began to boil up / like Coca-Cola.” When the prince in “Cinderella” tries the glass slipper on every maiden in the kingdom, the narrator observes, “The prince was getting tired. / He began to feel like a shoe salesman.”

All in all, this collection didn’t make a huge impact on me, but I would recommend it to people who like poetry and fairy tales. I’d definitely like to read more of Anne Sexton’s work!

Review: The Quick

Quick, TheLauren Owen, The Quick

This novel, set in late Victorian England, centers around James Norbury and his sister Charlotte. After growing up isolated in a crumbling country estate, James is eager to move to London and try his luck as a poet. He slowly begins to conquer his shyness and mix a little in society, and eventually he even falls in love. But everything changes one fateful night when James is attacked, kidnapped, and initiated into the sinister Aegolius Club. Meanwhile, Charlotte has grown more and more anxious about her brother, who seems to have vanished without a trace. She journeys to London and attemps to discover what has happened to him, but what she finds out is more shocking and horrible than she ever could have imagined. As the Aegolius Club’s secrets are slowly revealed, and its members become more and more dangerous, Charlotte realizes that her only course of action is to destroy the club; but even if such a thing were possible, would she truly be able to rescue James?

I find that I really can’t talk about this book without mentioning one significant spoiler, so please STOP READING NOW if you don’t want to know anything else about the plot of this book! … If you’re still interested, here goes: this book is about vampires. I mention it because there is nothing in the book’s description or on the cover blurb about them, yet they are central to the entire book! Personally, I’m not a big fan of vampire novels and would not have picked up this book if I’d known they would be such a big part of the plot. That said, I actually really liked it a lot; Owen is a wonderful writer, and I found the novel a real page-turner despite the fact that it’s over 500 pages long. In fact, my other complaint is that it could probably have ended a few chapters before it did. I wasn’t a huge fan of the (largely depressing) ending, and I would have liked a little happiness for the main characters in the end, after they’d suffered so much. Still, this is a very accomplished gothic novel, and I’d definitely consider reading more by Lauren Owen.

Review: The Grimm Legacy

Grimm Legacy, ThePolly Shulman, The Grimm Legacy

High-school student Elizabeth Rew is feeling lonely: her new stepmother is taking up most of her father’s time, and she’s just transferred to a new school where she doesn’t have any friends. So when her history teacher suggests that she get a job with the New York Circulating Material Repository, she looks forward to the new experience. The Repository is a lending library for objects, including famous historical artifacts like Marie Antoinette’s wig; but Elizabeth soon discovers that there are even more important objects to be found. Specifically, the Grimm Collection houses fairytale items with magical properties, including flying carpets and seven-league boots. As Elizabeth explores the wonders of the Grimm Collection, she also befriends her fellow employees, including popular Marc, beautiful Anjali, and standoffish Aaron. When some of the magical items go missing, it’s up to Elizabeth and her newfound friends to discover who is stealing from the Grimm Collection — before they become the thief’s next victims.

A few years ago I read Polly Shulman’s other book, Enthusiasm, and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me quite as well. I absolutely loved the premise — what if you could actually borrow the magic mirror from Snow White or Aladdin’s lamp? — and many of the details related to this concept worked very well. I especially liked the idea that borrowers had to leave a “deposit” for the items, which could be something like their sense of direction, their singing voice, or their firstborn child. The problem with the book is that it’s geared toward a very young audience. I don’t have a problem with YA in general, and I’ve read many excellent books in the genre, but this one really felt like YA or even juvenile fiction. If I’d read the book at age 11, I probably would have loved it, but as an adult, I found it far too simplistic. There were also a few plot points that weren’t fully fleshed out, such as Elizabeth’s relationships with her dad and stepmom. Overall, the book is a decent read, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re really OK with juvenile or YA fiction.