2nd Half of my Favorite Books of 2012

Series: His Fair Assassin**

#1: Grave Mercy

#2: Dark Triumph (4/2/13)

LaFevers, R.L. YA, assassins, convents, nuns, weapons, poisons, mystery, intrigue, romance
I was able to read this as an eGalley before it came out, and I was unbelievably excited about it. I think part of what caught my attention was the tagline, “Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?” It may sound a little corny, but the premise of the novel is a convent who takes girls and young women in, rescuing them from abusive or other bad situations, and teaching them to be assassins. They learn everything depending on their talents, Ismae, our heroine (it gets interesting when your heroine is an assassin) is exceptionally good at what she does. The nuns of the convent of St. Mortain, the ancient god of death, wait for a sign from him to send out one of their assassins. Or, when things are slow, when there are problems in the capital and the Duchess needs protection. Ismae ends up in the retinue of Gavriel Duval, the Duchesses’ brother, as his lover, which she is not happy about, but they decided it was the best way to get her into the castle with a reasonable excuse. And boy, are there a cast of characters there, all scheming and plotting and trying to win the Duchesses’ hand in marriage. This book is so incredibly well written—the characters are fully fleshed out, and you truly feel for them when things go wrong. All the struggles for power are illustrated beautifully, circles within circles until it is no longer clear who the Duchess can trust. I liked the contrast between the convent taking in girls who are powerless vs. the situation the Duchess is in. Yes, her life is much better than the girls who enter the convent, but no one listens to her despite her position—everyone wants her to marry so a man can speak for the Duchy. She is not considered worthwhile or smart enough to rule on her own, and until she marries, will be constantly vulnerable to attack from numerous enemies. This was a very different kind of book than the ones coming out at the time, the fluffy somewhat no-brainer romances with various fallen creatures, etc. etc. and it was so refreshing that not only was it different, it was good. The sequel is about a new character, one we were introduced to briefly in Grave Mercy. I had wanted to see more of Ismae, but this could be interesting as well. I highly recommend this one.
Series: Lumatere Chronicles

#1: Finnikin of the Rock

#2: Froi of the Exiles

#3: Quintana of Charyn (4/9/13)

Marchetta, Melina YA, royalty, rightful heirs, adventure, travel, romance, relationships, family
I do have a confession to make here. The third book came out in September of last year in Australia, so I bought it then because I was unwilling to wait until April 2013. When I do anything like that it always involves this odd little ritual of calling my bank and telling them I’m going to be buying something from Australia, in this case. If I don’t, they put a hold on my card because they think someone has stolen it and the purchase is dubious. I had to do it before I went to Canada for a week too. Now, while I appreciate their concern, I’m slightly insulted by the fact they don’t think it’s possible that I could have popped over to Australia and bought it in person there. That would never, ever happen (it would be fun), but they don’t have to remind me of that fact. I can dream. I picked up Finnikin of the Rock on a lark because it was in the shelf in front of me at the library. I devoured it in one day. I loved everything about it, the way it was written, the way the character interacted so believably, all the little mysteries that started to clear up, the willingness of people to give others a second chance even when they had done something awful, with the knowledge that it still wouldn’t be forgotten, just shelved. The world Marchetta creates is so lifelike and real, the groups of people so distinct. I know she does a lot of research looking for places she thinks resemble what she imagines her world to look like (so she gets to go to some pretty cool places). None of the characters are flawless. They can work to remedy their flaws, but they still never get rid of them completely. There are fantastic characters in the last book, two of my favorite being the estranged elderly twin brothers who live across the courtyard from each other, come out to see each other every morning, then go back inside. Quintana is quite the character herself, very complicated, and as more is revealed about her childhood, etc., it’s easier to see that yes, she still may be a little crazy, but there’s a pretty darn good reason for it. This is also a book about forgiveness, and realizing the consequences of one’s actions—things happened in the first book that had long reaching effects they were never aware of until the third book. I absolutely love these books, and Marchetta has written others as well, some of which have won prizes and are very well acclaimed. I have tried to read those, but I can’t get into the real world stories, for some reason. I think it shows her talent that she can do an excellent job in YA fiction, even though it’s not my taste, and then write a YA fantasy series written so differently I have no issues with it at all, and that these are some of my favorite YA fantasy books (although there is a lot of crossover these days).
Flame of Sevenwaters Marillier, Juliet Adult, myth, druids, fey, magic, relationships, family, love, second sight, betrayal
This is the latest installment of the books beginning with Daughter of the Forest, the one that first addicted me to Juliet Marillier. A couple of generations have passed since then, and Sorcha, the main character of that tale, is the grandmother of the heroine of this one, Maeve. Maeve was in a fire ten years earlier which disfigured her face to a degree and rendered her hands useless, so she is dependent for help with nearly everything from her wonderfully portrayed maid (who is more of a friend). She has, however, an incredible gift with animals, which is possibly some consolation from losing her dog Bounder in the fire that injured her. Returning home for the first time in ten years (she had been living with her Aunt and Uncle—her Aunt, her father’s sister, is a Healer of some renown and they had hoped she might be able to help with Maeve’s hands). Coming home is as awkward as she was afraid it was going to be, with the exception of a few people. Maeve starts out as a character who seems to have settled for her lot in life—she’ll never marry, never have children, and lead a solitary life dependent on others. She doesn’t seem particularly self-pitying, and if she does, it’s more out of anger than anything else, why can’t she have those things. She overhears some of the men at her father’s talking about her and how her hands make their skin crawl, and it shatters any hope she had been building up. Her 7 year old brother Finbar, a boy who will most likely grow to be a very strong seer, is fascinated with her. Maeve worries he is too serious for a boy his age—he has a tutor/ bodyguard, Luachan, a druid her Uncle Cíaran (the interim head druid) chose. A terrible event has taken place—a large group of men from the neighboring Lord’s lands has disappeared, including his two sons, while they were traveling through her Uncle’s lands. Everyone at Sevenwaters believes it is Mac Dara, who kidnapped Finbar when he was a baby to try to get his own son to come home, but they try to keep the fact that Sevenwaters has this mystical/magical place within it for fear others wouldn’t understand. This time, Maeve is drawn into the forest, with no one to depend on but herself and two wild dogs she has tamed and named Bear and Badger. She realizes she does pretty well on her own, and gradually starts to piece together that everything isn’t right in the forest. The story is interesting, and the characters well-drawn. For anyone familiar with the Sevenwaters series, it’s like coming home again. I’m a sucker for happy endings. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, because others might not be. Terrible, terrible ending. Death, destruction, the end of civilization as they knew it as Sauron drags them into a new age…oh, wait, wrong book. It works as a stand alone book, but really these are best if you start from the beginning and read them in order, because they build on each other. This is a review gone horribly wrong. It’s a good book, definitely worth checking out.
A Monster Calls Ness, Patrick YA, adult, death, coping, guilt, resolution…
I don’t want to say too much about this one. I kept seeing it mentioned and finally put a hold on it at the library. It was not at all what I expected. I think everyone will have their own, personal reaction to it—reviews seemed to range from “best book ever” to “this book wouldn’t have helped at all, it sucked.” It’s a book I would want to give as a gift to someone who might need something like it, but I would be hesitant. It’s written in a spare style but isn’t so bare bones it has no flavor to it. The emotions of the characters are muted—the characters themselves are muted. The story isn’t complex and full of riddles and mysteries to be solved—it’s very straightforward. Not jarring, but flowing like thick cake batter toward its imminent resting place in the pan. (there’s a reason I’m not a poet). It doesn’t seem like it’s pulling you in, but it is, and when you reach the end it’s such a feeling of relief, to say what you feel out loud. I don’t know what else to say—if you have been a caregiver, a relative, a friend, a child, of anyone who has had a long term terminal illness, I would suggest this book. It might not have the same resonance for you as it did for me, but maybe it will.
For Darkness Shows the Stars Peterfreund, Diana YA, adult, dystopian, freedom, genetics, loosely based on Persuasion by Jane Austen, luddites, technology
I didn’t expect much from this, truthfully. I had read the author’s unicorn books (well, one and a half of them) and hadn’t really gotten into them. Then I heard it was loosely based on Persuasion and decided to check it out, which is a little ironic since that’s one of the Austen books I haven’t read. Now I want to, though. The novel has an interesting structure—the narrative goes along, and then there will be letters between Kai, the worker boy on the farm, and Elliot, the privileged daughter of the owner of the farm. They were friends since childhood until he decided he couldn’t stand it there anymore. She couldn’t run away with him, and that was the last she saw of him. She thought. While her father and older sister are supposed to be running the farm, Elliot is actually the one doing all the work, and a little more. She has been trying to genetically modify wheat so it will produce more, ensuring their workers won’t go hungry and possibly even having a little left over to sell. Her family is Luddite, as are all the landowners, and such meddling is prohibited. Her father discovers it and plows it under to keep anyone else from finding out—he’s going to put in a race track. Knowing they desperately need money, Elliot looks through her father’s correspondence and finds a letter from a well known adventurer, looking to rent the dock her grandfather owns for however long it takes for them to build a new ship. Elliot completes the rental agreement, even though it means moving her grandfather out of the only home he’s ever lived in to make room for the new tenants. Elliot’s grief, frustration, and disbelief at her father and sister’s behaviors are completely convincing. All of the characters, even those with minor roles, are fleshed out just enough to make them believable and real. Elliot truly does care for the people who work for her family, but her view has always been from the view of being the privileged one. When their new tenants arrive, Elliot is at a complete loss at the identity of one of the Captains. Ultimately, this is a story about moving forward and forgiveness, both on a personal and a technological level. The acceptance of things beyond our realm of imagination. The door-stopper stubbornness of the hero, as in the Austen novels, to do anything to indicate his true feelings that makes you want to whack him over the head with a broom—see, the writing really does pull you into the story, when you want to start hitting characters with cleaning implements. Not that Elliot isn’t stubborn herself. There is just enough detail to make everything seem real—to get really angry at the “bad” guys and cheer the “good” guys on.
Series: Sarah Tolerance**

#1: Point of Honor

#2: Petty Treason

#3: The Sleeping Partner

Robins, Madeleine E. Adult, mystery, alternate historical setting, fallen women, brothels, private investigators
These are all well-written, interesting reads. It’s interesting to see the juxtaposition of Sarah’s world as an investigator with her Aunt’s in the bordello. Sarah fights to be respected for her choice of profession, and the fact that she is as smart as any man who might be doing the job. She’s clever and quick thinking, and is able to fend for herself. Occasionally her business ends up involving her Aunt’s in some way, usually not in a good one. I’m not a huge mystery fan, but I really liked these (the third was the one I read this year). The dialogue is engaging, and by the third installment I felt like taking her brother and shaking him—yes, he’s in politics, but she’s still his sister. Maybe because I’ve been so much into family ties lately. Robins doesn’t go overboard with anything, it’s all just right. One thing that might be a little confusing—the first two are published by major publishing houses. The third is published by an Independent publisher, which is why it’s more expensive than the first two. It’s well worth the money, and the knowledge that by going to an independent publisher Robins had more creative control, along with the wisdom to know people did want more of Sarah Tolerance, is a good thing. I think authors get pushed into the “it has to be commercial” corner too much. I didn’t list publishers on here, because most of them are mainstream, but a few aren’t, and I think that’s a good thing. Robins is a talented author whose work is well above average and completely enjoyable. I highly recommend all three.
The Replacement

The Space Between

Yovanoff, Brenna YA, dark fantasy, fairies, alternate worlds
The first thing I thought when I started reading these was, “this is really different.” If you’ve seen a picture of Brenna Yovanoff, she looks like a woman who would write about sweet, happy romances, with rainbows and unicorns (ok, maybe that’s taking it too far), not dark, scary, dystopian worlds with dolls missing an eye or a limb lying in puddles. With incredibly unique and original stories that grab your attention and keep you reading, sometimes because you’re too interested to stop, sometimes because you’re too afraid to stop—what will happen to your hero or heroine if you leave them alone? Will the words squirm around and rearrange themselves if you close the book? This probably sounds creepy, and the books are creepy—these two aren’t a series, I just read both of them this year, but they are in chronological order as to publication. Given all this, the sense of atmosphere is very well developed, as well as the characters. The amazing thing is that while they are so different from everything else out there, her own books are so different from each other. They do follow the general main character gets into trouble of some sort/needs help getting out of it/someone will help but there’s a cost/eventually everything’s sorted/relatively happy resolution. That’s pretty much what all stories are. There’s the saying that there are only a certain number of stories in the world (5? 7? 11? Something like that) and it’s up to authors and storytellers to recreate them in different ways. Yovanoff has gone above and beyond—maybe I was just so disturbed it just felt different. I think that’s legitimate. The story is still there, in its cohesive state. The characters are still there. Sometimes they notice their environment, sometimes they do. The times they do are a validation of what we’re reading that seems so unreal, but the characters are seeing the same thing, so for this delineated world, that must be the norm for that particular spot. At times it feels as though the characters are just floating along, being propelled by the story until they take a hold of it again, when they’ve finally figured something out that allows them to take control. I think I should stop there. I found these both to be well-written novels, in artfully constructed worlds, each with their own separate voice. Or maybe that was the bug hiding in the spine of the book calling “help me, help me!”
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