Tag Archives: books

M is for Mab (The Blood Keeper by Tessa Gratton)

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--MEarlier this month, I reviewed the incredible Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton. If you haven’t read Blood Magic, there may be some spoilers here. Be warned.

If you’re still reading, I’ll assume you’ve either already read the earlier book or don’t care about spoilers. The Blood Keeper is a companion to Blood Magic, not exactly a sequel, because it focuses on new characters, but it does take place about 5 years after the first book, and Silla and Nick make appearances. Reese’s crows are definitely present, now as familiars to the new Deacon, Mab. (For those who, like me, are big fans of Reese as a character, you can check out Crow Memory, Gratton’s short story from Reese’s perspective that bridges the gap between the two books. It’s available to read for free on her website.)

Mab is the daughter of Josephine Daly, and bears the burden of knowing her mother was the one who killed Silla and Nick’s parents, and caused Reese to become the flock of crows who watch over her now. When the old Deacon, Arthur, died, Mab took on the role. Some call her the Blood Keeper, as she is the one who watches over those with blood magic and provides safety and protection to those who need it. Arthur’s last words to Mab instructed her to destroy the rose bushes at their home. She knows the roses hold a curse, but instead of destroying them, she tries to understand the magic they hold. In doing so, she inadvertently releases the power that was bound within the roses. The curse causes her life to intersect with that of Will Sanger, a young man from a military family who doesn’t know what he wants in life–except that he doesn’t want what’s expected of him.

The pacing of this book is a bit slower than Blood Magic, which isn’t a bad thing. I loved Mab in all her wildness, loved getting to know her and what the Deacon’s role involves. Like the first book, this one alternates between the current story and journal entries–this time of “Evie”, who came to live on the blood land with Arthur and his longtime companion Gabriel. The journal entries reveal much about the magic, and about the former Deacon, which fans of the first book should be interested to learn. The curse of the roses itself is haunting. Mab’s need to protect those under her care as Deacon–especially her newest charge, a young boy named Lukas who has been the victim of magical abuse–makes fighting the curse a dangerous balance. Will’s relationship with his older brother Ben feels real, as does his family’s varied ways of coping with his other brother’s death.

The last half of the book definitely picks up pace, and I stayed up ridiculously late reading page after page. The stakes are high throughout, and the payout is worth reading to the end. I can pretty much guarantee that I will read absolutely anything Tessa Gratton writes. She has a knack for ripping my heart out and filling it up all at the same time. All of her characters have depth and conflicts and desires and flaws that are realistic and complex. The Blood Keeper allowed me to linger a bit in this darkly beautiful world she has created, and I sincerely hope she will revisit it somehow in the future.

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L is for Levana (Fairest by Marissa Meyer)

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge--LSince I’ve already mentioned my deep love of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, it should come as no surprise that I pre-ordered her latest installment and pretty much devoured it as soon as it was available. Fairest is a considered a novella, though the page count is actually pretty close to standard novel length for YA–222 pages for the hardcover–and tells the story of Queen Levana’s rise to power. Oh, and it has one of the best covers I’ve seen in ages, teasing at the fact that we’ll finally get to know who Levana is underneath her veils and glamours.

This is such a different book from the rest of the series that I felt it definitely merited a separate review. Fairest is really the story of descent into madness by someone who truly believes she is right and justified in her actions. Through the course of this book, we understand some of how Levana came to be the way she is, but she is NOT a sympathetic character. This isn’t the story of a misunderstood woman who we know will redeem herself in the end. Rather, it shows us just how a psychopath is developed. Yes, I felt some sympathy for her early on, but she makes conscious decisions throughout that show her lack of empathy for others, and her utter selfishness. It’s the story of a woman driven by obsession, desperate to be loved, but not understanding that love is not the same as desire or possession.

This is a dark venture into the mind of a villain. You won’t find the lighthearted humor of the other Lunar Chronicles books. But for me, it helped me understand the motivations of this mysterious woman, and I’m certainly even more eager to read Winter when it comes out this fall–especially since there were teaser chapters at the back. We got a lot of Winter’s backstory in Fairest as well, so it will be interesting to compare her more obvious insanity, caused by refusing to use her glamour, to that of Levana, who believes herself sane and the rest of the world to be villainous. I cannot wait for the conclusion to this series!

Do you have a favorite literary villain? Let me know in the comments!

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J is for Jonas (The Giver by Lois Lowry)

J

The Giver was one of those books everyone around me is shocked that I never read. The thing is, many of my friends, especially in the writing community, are younger than me. They forget that while they read this in school, I was already in high school when it was released, and probably in college (or nearly so) by the time it hit curriculum in my district. So it was high on my list for my 100-book challenge this year.

This is a quick read, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it is a fluff piece. Far from it. The Giver is one of the first YA dystopian novels, and its influence on more recent titles is apparent almost immediately. Jonas, our main character, lives in a community that has placed Sameness as its highest value. All history, emotions, even colors have been suppressed. The Rules of the community are many, and maintain a strictly regimented society. When Jonas is selected to be the new Receiver of Memory–the sole bearer of all the history of the world before Sameness–he begins to question everything he has always taken for granted, and wonders if humankind sacrificed too much in the name of peace and civility.

What sets this aside from so many of the newer dystopian stories is that there are many things about the community that seem at first to be very good. Everyone has enough to eat. People are polite to each other. Since everyone is taught not to focus on what makes each other different, there are no bullies. Everybody rides around on bicycles from the age of 9 up, so there is no smog, no traffic congestion. But with everything that Lowry unveils about the Community, you discover one more way in which individuality is discouraged. In trying to keep everyone safe and protect them from the ugliest parts of human nature, they destroyed the most beautiful parts as well. This is a world without music, without color, where language is required to be precise not expressive.

Jonas and his mentor, the former Receiver who now calls himself the Giver since he is passing all the memories on to Jonas, both see what the world has been. They understand the cost of changing their Community. But they also see that Sameness is not always good, not always worth what has been sacrificed. The ending is deliberately vague, and in my copy which had a Q & A with the author, Lowry says she meant it to be hopeful. I’ve heard mixed things about the rest of Lowry’s books in the quartet, so I think I’ll leave them for a bit. There is so much in this one to process that I’ll probably reread it once I’m done with my 100-book year. It is well-deserved of all the praise it’s been given, and I highly recommend it.

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F is for Fowl (Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer)

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015--FWhen I was making my list of books to help me complete my goal of 100 books read this year, I wanted some short, fun reads. The first series of books that I thought of was the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. I had read the first two books previously, but that was years ago. So I started from the beginning, and I’ve been working through the series. As of this post, I’ve read the first 5 books plus the companion piece, The Artemis Fowl Files. It’s been a fun ride.

Artemis is a child genius with a penchant for criminal behavior, having come from a long line of criminal masterminds. When he discovers the existence of the underground Faerie world and kidnaps LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaisance) Captain Holly Short, we get to see an entertaining chess game of sorts between the two worlds.

These books are just great fun. Artemis reminds me of a young Sherlock Holmes (perhaps more like Mycroft, actually), more of an anti-hero than a villain, too smart for his own good sometimes, always one step ahead of his enemies, but socially inept. Holly Short is more than his match, the first female Captain in the LEPrecon, and I love her sarcastic sense of humor. Colfer writes a tongue-in-cheek story, deliberately cheesy at times. The rest of the characters are well developed, from Foaly, the paranoid tech-support centaur, to Mulch Diggums, a kleptomaniac dwarf. The second book, The Arctic Incident, improves on the first in character development and the stakes involved. Book three, The Eternity Code, is my favorite of the series, with Artemis working together with the LEP to take down a rival human with connections to the mafia who has stolen faerie technology from Artemis.

While I haven’t read all the books, I can heartily recommend at least the first few to anyone wanting a series that can bridge the gap between Mid-Grade and Young Adult books. I’ll be revisiting the series later in the month, so stay tuned!

If you have recommendations for some quick reads for me to meet my challenge, feel free to share them in the comments! Or let me know your favorite literary villain or anti-hero. 🙂

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D is for Drusilla (Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton)

DTo say I loved Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton is a massive understatement. This very dark YA fantasy is set in a small town in Kansas, where Drusilla (Silla) and her brother Reese have just lost their parents in a gruesome apparent murder-suicide. Then one day, Silla receives a book of spells written in her fathers hand, along with a letter from a mysterious person known only as the Deacon.

Silla decides to try the magic, believing fervently that her father didn’t kill her mother and himself. But discovering the magic is real is only the beginning. She and her brother, along with newcomer Nick–who has a history with the magic that he’d rather forget–must learn to master the spells and uncover the identity of her parents’ real killer, who would like nothing better than to drain them of their blood in hopes of gaining immortality.

The mystery element of this story is carried out with a sort of dual story structure. On the one hand, you have Silla and Nick’s contemporary tale, on the other, the journal entries of Josephine Darly, born in the late 1800s, tell the story of a young woman who becomes obsessed with the magic and with her own mentor, and uses the blood of other practitioners to extend her life by decades. The opening line of the book is, “I am Josephine Darly, and I intend to live forever.” Gratton tells Josephine’s story beautifully, and truly leaves the reader guessing as to her identity. She sets up three distinct possibilities, all of whom have deep connections to Silla and Reese, making uncovering Josephine’s identity a dangerous task.

More than anything, I applaud Gratton for her very real telling of a teen in grief, both with the loss of Silla’s parents and as she deals with a profound loss within the story. From the physical shock she goes through to the way her friends and classmates treat her differently than before, it echoed my own experiences from when I lost my brother when I was 17. Since books were such a help to me in my own grief, I applaud her for not glossing over the pain of loss.

There is more to this story than meets the eye, and I am so glad that I finally read it. I should also mention that my husband snagged it from my book pile before I read it, and now compares pretty much every new book he reads to it. (“Well, I liked that one, but it’s no Blood Magic.”) So I’m not alone. He’s currently reading The Blood Keeper, Gratton’s second book in this magical world, and I’ll be reading it as soon as he finishes, and plan to review it mid-month.

Do you have a favorite haunting fantasy novel? Share it with me in the comments! I love adding to my TBR list!

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C is for Cinder and Cress (The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer)

CThere is a new gold standard for me in YA, and it is Marissa Meyer’s incredible Lunar Chronicles series. These sci-fi retellings of fairy tales feature a cast of characters that defy your expectations in the best ways.

The first installment, Cinder, is the story of a cyborg Cinderella. Scarlet is a bad-ass Red Riding Hood character with a pretty amazing rebel grandmother.

Cress, the third story, finds the characters from the earlier books needing help from a girl with ridiculously long hair who has spent nearly all her life in a satellite in orbit around the Earth. This Rapunzel retelling is far from the norm, with Cress being a genius-level computer hacker who has seen the world through only the vid streams she watches, making her incredibly naive and socially awkward.

All of this is set in a future Earth that is battling a deadly plague with no cure, whose best hope is a treaty between Earth and the Lunars, who possess incredible telepathic gifts and the ability to glamour themselves. (I’ll touch on the Lunar queen, Levana, later in the month.)

While there is a big reveal at the end of Cinder that I figured out around 20 pages in, that didn’t detract from the experience of the book for me. I finished it in the middle of the night right after Scarlet came out, and I couldn’t wait until morning to go to the bookstore, so I bought the e-book and dove right into it. I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve been this excited about a series. Each book improves on the last, so much so that I think I’ll need to take time off when the final installment, Winter, comes out this fall. Read them all, you won’t be sorry!

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B is for Lord and Lady Blakeney (The Scarlet Pimpernel)

We seek him here, we seek him there,

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

Is he in Heaven?–Is he in Hell?

That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.

BI’ve been wanting to read The Scarlet Pimpernel for a long time, especially after my 2013 NaNoWriMo project was set in an alternate history version of Revolutionary France. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t believe I waited so long!

This classic novel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy is part swashbuckling adventure, part court intrigue. Set in 1792 during France’s Reign of Terror, which sent thousands of aristocrats, sympathizers, and suspected enemies of the Republic to death under the blade of “Madame Guillotine”, The Scarlet Pimpernel tells the story of a hero who works to save those destined to death. The Pimpernel, named after the little red flower he leaves on anonymously-penned notes, works under cover of darkness and cunning disguises to thwart the efforts of the Republic’s officers. One in particular, Chauvelin, has made it his mission to see the Pimpernel unmasked and on his way to the guillotine.

To do so, Chauvelin blackmails the Lady Marguerite Blakeney, a French citizen married to a foppish English Lord, holding over her head information that her own brother has been in league with the Pimpernel. Lady Blakeney is an intelligent, fashionable woman, devoted to her brother and torn between her deeply Republican beliefs and her understanding that the current bloody version of the Republic betrayed the core principles of the Revolution.

The language of the book is rich, but mostly doesn’t overwhelm with detail. There were only a few places where the story drags, and usually it’s because the author is giving us backstory for a character. It’s a fairly quick read, with the biggest question–who is the Pimpernel?–not being answered until well into the book. It’s a brilliant case of secret identity, a predecessor to the comic book and silver screen heroes most of us know well. And while you certainly couldn’t call it a romance, the estranged Blakeneys rebuilding their love after secrets strained it is central to the story. The author is herself an aristocrat, so her sympathies toward those of noble descent are obviously stated, but at the same time, she doesn’t really say the Revolution was unjust. Marguerite is undeniably Republican, but still believes the Pimpernel is a hero because she rejects the bloodbath happening in her homeland.

In short, I felt swept away to a different place and time when I read this. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a great read for anyone who loves historical fiction, or who is new to reading classics. I will likely be reading more of Orczy’s novels about the Pimpernel’s adventures soon. Do you have a favorite adaptation of the story? Or a favorite classic novel? Share your comments below! 🙂

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