Reread Review: Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers

This is a new feature of 52 Letters: Reread reviews! These are for books that I already reviewed on this blog, but that I read a second (or third, or fourth…) time. I’ll be comparing my thoughts when I reread the book to the first review I wrote.

Hopefully, this is something that interests you as a reader!


cover grave mercy

First read: June 2014

First rating: umm…this was before I did ratings for books, but I think I liked it enough for 4.5/5 stars

My first review can be found here

What I remember: I loved this book. I was head-over-heels in love with Ismae and Duval’s budding romance, and the historical-political background onto which it was set was compelx without over-powering the story.

Second read: February 2015

Second Rating: 4/5 stars

My reread review

I railed against the amazon description of this book in my first review, so you can go read my substituted synopsis with the link above. The amazon description doesn’t bother me as much as it did (or maybe they changed it?) so here it is:

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage to the respite of the convent of St. Mortain. Here she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts and a violent destiny. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. But how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who has stolen her heart?

I enjoyed rereading Grave Mercy, but I did not like the story as much the second time.

The parts of it I still loved included the intricate web of castle intrigue, politics, alliances, and backstabbing (which I originally referred to as a giant game of FMK). I’m a sucker for books like this, and I enjoyed the historical setting LaFevers created. The politic subplot was never too complicated and never overpowered the book. My one complaint would be that there were a lot of times when characters would explain the political situation, and it started to feel repetitive. I could keep track of what was going on and found myself frustrated that the plot halted for a redundant recap.

The side characters, subplots, and the writing of this book are all extremely well executed. Every character feels alive, and I genuinely cared about the “good guys” and hated the “bad guys.” LaFever’s commentary on abusive males and political wargames was powerful in its subtlety. I could not put this book down, and I have to admit that my schoolwork probably suffered for it–which is the sign of a really good book.

The religious elements LaFevers drew in–specifically the existence of nine saints who are being swept out by the spread of Christianity–helped to create a pleasantly alternate-historical fiction feeling. Though the book would probably be categorized as fantasy, I liked that the magical elements were kept to a minimum and that most of what happened was character driven instead of relying on divine intervention. Ismae’s struggle to reconcile her faith in Mortain–the god she serves–and her loyalty to the convent in which she was raised made her character relatable and human. As secrets were exposed, Ismae had to redefine her faith, driving her character to chose where her loyalties really lay.

However, I did not connect to Ismae’s character as much as I would have liked this time around. I think part of what caused this was remembering the ending of the book–I knew how her character’s conflicts were resolved, so I was impatient with her in her tumultuous journey to get there. Knowing the ending of a book generally doesn’t have this effect on me, but in this case I found myself less enthusiastic about the book the second time around.

The romance with Duval was fun to read, but less emotionally captivating when I knew that the couple did actually get together. I remember the first time I read this book I felt like there was no way that their conflicting personalities could fall for each other, and watching it happen was perfectly adorable and heart-warming. Knowing that it happened lessened–but did not destroy–the magic of Ismae and Duval falling in love.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Kristen Cashore’s Graceling or Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass. Though I did not enjoy the book as much as I remembered doing so the first time, it is still an amazing, powerful read and a tremendous beginning to as trilogy.

Poetry: To Show You Why

Here’s the thing

I hate, a lot

And I’m angry more than that

About big things and little things

And I know that it doesn’t all make sense, to you—

But a lot of it does make sense

To me—

Even if I don’t know how to take the

Jumbled timeline of my life

And iron out the kinks

To make each event fall into line

(Exhibit A, B, and C reporting for duty, sir!)

To show you the how or the why

Of the what.

My Top Ten Favorite Heroines

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

The Meriam Webster definition of heroine is

1. a woman who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities

2. the chief female character in a story, play, movie, etc.

That being said, I’m focusing on female characters that I feel are emotionally, mentally, and–to some extent–physically strong. Characters that command the story they are in and grow throughout. Most of all, characters that I connected with as a reader–the kind of protagonist that I would befriend in a heartbeat if they were real.

In no particular order…

  1. Vin from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy
  2. Cammie from Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girl Series
  3. Celaena from Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series
  4. Miriam Black from Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds series
  5. Gemma Doyle from Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy
  6. Puck from Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races
  7. Viola from Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy
  8. Verity from Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity
  9. Kat from Ally Carter’s Heist Society series
  10. Rose from Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series

Short Story: Entropy, Human Style

I’ve never wanted to kill someone before today.

“Hey.”

I swallow, pressing my tongue against my teeth, testing out the idea of conversation. “…Hey.”

“I’m glad we’re talking.”

I’m not. “Me, too.” I glance around the room: a metal cube, with a table and two chairs. I know there is a door behind me—locked.

“This doesn’t have to be awkward.”

God, does my nose twitch like that when I talk?

“And yet, it is.”

Her jaw swerves as she bites her tongue. “What do you want me to say?”

I bite my own tongue, a reflexive mirror. “Whatever. Just—talk.” I should have a notebook or a voice recorder or—something. But those jobs have been passed off to people and machines working outside the cube while I slowly go insane in here with her.

I can’t remember why I thought this was a good idea. Any of this. Screw fame—I want my sanity.

“I don’t remember everything yet,” she says. “But the doctors say all of it will come back over time. Probably just a few weeks more.”

“Great,” I say, tight-lipped.

“I remember the last day of second grade, when your mom bought us ice cream—mint chip, because it’s our favorite.”

“I like vanilla now,” I say.

“I know that, too.”

She plays with the tip of her hair, twisting it around her finger. “And I remember middle school graduation, when you got that plaque for Best Science Student.”

“Ironic.” My fingers itch to find my hair but I keep them firmly clasped in front of me.

“Prom night,” she jokes, winking. My insides clench, not because the memory is bad—it’s pretty fantastic—but at the idea that she knows about it.

“It’s like being twins,” she finally offers. Then a shrug and a smile, like a mix between a beaten puppy and a flirty preteen. Both of them just trying to get the right type of attention—from me.

I lean back. “No, it’s not. Twins are separate people. Twins have different dreams at night. Twins have different hobbies and have read different books. Twins have different strides and like different condiments on their burgers.”

She counters, “Twins have the same birthday. Twins have the same genes and the same home lives and the same inside jokes about chores and crushes.”

Identical twins,” I clarify. “And only if they have a good relationship and grow up together and—there are variables you haven’t considered.”

“I know.”

Variables. I’m the math/science genius and I still can’t figure all of them out.

It’s making me twitch, being in the same room with her. I can’t stop noticing every little thing she does: worry the hem of her shirt, shift her shoulders, crack only the knuckle of her index fingers.

“Can you just—stop?”

She freezes. “Stop what?”

I’m trying not to scream and I know she can tell. “Stop—being me? Can you, I don’t know, learn ballet or get a scar or go to the South and pick up an annoying accent? Just something that makes you be different?”

“That’s not the point.”

“Well, the point can fuck off, okay?” I yell.

She flinches. I want to feel guilty, but my anger shoves the rest of my emotions out of my brain and locks the doors.

“You’re not supposed to exist. You’re impossible. You’re a mistake. And just because I agreed to talk to you doesn’t mean that any of that has changed.”

Her eyes—my eyes—meet mine. “I’m the greatest thing you’ve ever done.”

“Smartest. You’re the smartest thing I’ve ever done. The most impressive. Maybe the most influential. But Prometheus stole fire and all he got for that was saying goodbye to his liver—and not in the fun, alcoholic way. Marie Curie fried her own brain so that we can make microwave pizza. Let’s ask Nobel and Oppenheimer about the most influential things they ever did, huh?

“Science doesn’t reward scientists. Achievements don’t make your own life better, no matter how happy everyone else around you is.”

She laughs. “I’d say you’ve been working on that speech for a while, but I don’t have any memory of it.”

Wow, she’s a bitch. “You don’t have to be obnoxious about it.”

“Right, because you’re a poster child for kindness.” That kills the conversation, and we sit in tense silence.

She taps her forehead. “Damn, you’re smart.”

I can almost see the memories as they flood into her mind, but I know she is past middle school moments and exes. Her eyes are slightly glazed, her mouth open the tiniest amount. It is an expression I have never worn, and I am suddenly struck by the fact that someone else—someone I can’t control—has my brain. She knows every math equation I’ve ever learned, every idea that I’ve ever had.

I’ve had a lot of bad ideas over the years.

I stare at her, really look at her.

She’s me. We’ve got the same eyes, the same hair, the same crooked front tooth and mole just above our lip. She’s my height and weight. We’ve got the same fingerprints and the same genes. She remembers the same life that I remember. The only difference is our ages.

I’m twenty-five years old. She’s been alive for barely one week.

She’s my ticket into every science journal, every prestigious conference, every history book in the world. She’s a Nobel Prize taunting me with memories of elementary school.

She’s the world’s most successful clone—pushing past gene replication to factor in life chronology and outside influences—and it’s my own romantic, dumbass fault that she’s…me.

“Why do you hate me?” she asks, leaning in. “I’m you. I have your head. And I know you don’t hate yourself.”

What makes a person themselves? Memories—she has mine. Genes—ditto.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

We were only clones for one second

And then she existed and I existed, separately, and both of our selves branched out from there and we’ll never come back to where we started. Entropy—human style. A study of human identity locked in a box—is she me, or someone else?

Ask Schrodinger.

The history of the world is the development of weapons: rocks to spears to bows and arrows to cannons to guns to tanks to missiles to the A-bomb to chemical warfare to this—putting someone in a box with themselves and watching them slowly rip each other apart.

Book Review: Slash by Evan Kingston

This book surprised me with its stylistic writing and unique premise, but left me conflicted over the success of its execution.

3.5/5 stars

cover slash

 I received a copy of Slash from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Author’s description of Slash:

Alex Bledsoe would rather die than reveal her secret crush. As a star of TV’s #1 family drama, she’s certain coming out of the closet would end her career. Worse still, her one true love is America’s hottest young actress, Lissa Blaine, who just happens to play her older, prettier, and smarter big sis each week on Koop’s Kitchen. So Alex hates Lissa too, wishes her dead every time she stumbles onto the tabloid covers with a Long-Island in hand and some new B-list beefcake on her arm.

Desperate for an outlet each night after filming wraps, Alex closes the shades on her trailer and reads slash stories on internet fan-fiction forums: trashy little tales written by viewers about an imagined romance between her character and Lissa’s. All unbelievable moans and trite whispers, the fantasies are so incestuously metafictional, Alex believes them best taken to her grave—until an anonymous author begins to post violent slash stories, and Alex’s lusty dreams start to open up graves of their own.

As Alex struggles to decide whether she is turned on or disturbed, Koop’s Kitchen’s real-life actors start dying in suspiciously similar scenes. Sure that the parallels are more than coincidence, she begins to search the stories for suspects and clues instead of steamy caresses. But as she works to catch the killer before he slashes again, Alex realizes that revealing the secrets she’d die to hide might be the only way to save the lives of everyone she loves.

Slash was originally released as seven “episodes” from 2013 to 2014, and has recently been released as a collected edition.

There was a lot to enjoy with this book. For me at least, the premise was outside of anything I’d really ever read before. I loved the way Kingston incorporated slash fan fiction. Fan fic is something that I’ve encountered the fringes of on the internet, but that I’ve never really gotten into, so it was interesting to see it play a significant role in a novel. The stories and the forum onto which they were posted felt realistic, as did the digs Kingston worked in about the writing quality of most fan fic, especially slash.

The reality TV angle of the book was fun to read. Koop’s Kitchen is a fascinating mixture of writers who want a platform to preach “family values” and network specialists determined to use scandal to score high ratings. I loved the subtle cynicism infused throughout the descriptions of filming the series and the Hollywood world in which the story takes place.

The mystery was compelling. The way the stories played out in real life worked well with the story, and I liked that all of the deaths were “suicides,” adding an extra level of confusion to the early episodes. Each “episode” essentially focuses on investigating a different suspect. I could usually tell that the main character, Alex, was jumping to the wrong conclusion as to who the killer was, but for the life of me, I had no idea who the murderer could be. The last episode, when everything starts to come together, still kept up the suspense and the surprises. In the end, I liked the resolution of the mystery and of the overall plot.

The characterization wasn’t overly complex, but it got the job done. I loved Perry, he was hilarious. By the end of the story, I had a clear sense of who each of the major characters were. I loved the way Kingston worked in each character’s backstory. The flashback style would have come off as clunky with a different story, but it actually really worked in Slash.

I’m on the fence about a few parts of the book.

Alex, the main character, is one of them. I can’t decide if I connected to her. Parts of her personality–her most basic fears, her feelings about acting and Koop’s Kitchen, her drive for the truth–were very compelling and relatable. I honestly wanted to like Alex. Though the ages of the characters put the book in the NA genre, Alex’s voice had a YA feel. I didn’t feel like this took away from the story at all, and it was nice to have the familiar narrative style in an unfamiliar genre.

When I picked up the first episode of Slash, my first thought about Alex was basically “wow this girl is screwed up.” I thought that Kingston was going for the broken protagonist, but in fact, he presented her personality in a way that I realized she wasn’t screwed up psychologically that much. She has issues, of course, and her addiction to slash is one of them, but Kingston presents them with no judgement in his tone or plot structure, so that you end up sympathizing with her as a struggling individual rather than looking at her as damaged goods. Especially with the subject matter Kingston decided to tackle, I appreciated the matter-of-fact-ness of his writing throughout the book, making sure that Slash avoided what could have had an overwhelmingly preachy tone.

However, there were other parts of her personality that I understood on a conceptual basis but that I never emotionally connected with, especially her love/obsession with Lissa.

You learn fairly early on that Lissa is…a bitch. I really didn’t like her, though the characterization that made me hate her was skillfully done. At times, Alex sort of admitted that Lissa’s personality sucked, but her obsession (and that is a fair word to use–even Alex admitted it) never wavered. Kingston did provide psychological reasons for this (which tied in to her fears/doubts about her sexuality), but I never emotionally believed them; I still felt like her obsession was shallow and unreasonable, and I couldn’t connect to it. If the psychology had been more clearly shown–instead of basically just told to the main character by other people–it might have been a very different story.

One part of the story that was different from what I expected was the darkness of the plot. From the synopsis provided, I got the impression that I was in store for a seriously dark and screwed up story (along the lines of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, which I read last year). In reality, the novel was a lot more mellow than I expected. Horrific things happened, sure, but most of them were told second-hand (much in the style of Macbeth, where someone runs off screen, dies, and some poor messenger has to relate the gruesome details). It wasn’t until the seventh and final episode that things got super horror-esque.

I was actually okay with this aspect of the plot. It was kind of nice to read a story that deals with dark topics and horror elements without throwing themselves headlong into scaring or scarring the reader.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes the idea of reading horror but maybe isn’t ready for nightmare level plots. The story has a good amount of humor, characterization, and voice.  The writing is stylistically interesting and very readable–I breezed through the seven episodes in a few days of light reading. While there were specific areas of the execution that I feel missed the mark, the story in its entirety is definitely worth reading.

Book Review: Atlanta Burns (Atlanta Burns #1) by Chuck Wendig

I’m a huge Chuck Wendig fan, but this was his first YA book that I read. It was well written–with powerful social messages–and I ended up enjoying it almost as much as Wendig’s Miriam Black series.

Series: Atlanta Burns #1

4.5/5 stars

cover atlanta burns

Amazon description

You don’t mess with Atlanta Burns.

Everyone knows that. And that’s kinda how she likes it—until the day Atlanta is drawn into a battle against two groups of bullies and saves a pair of new, unexpected friends. But actions have consequences, and when another teen turns up dead—by an apparent suicide—Atlanta knows foul play is involved. And worse: she knows it’s her fault. You go poking rattlesnakes, maybe you get bit.

Afraid of stirring up the snakes further by investigating, Atlanta turns her focus to the killing of a neighborhood dog. All paths lead to a rural dogfighting ring, and once more Atlanta finds herself face-to-face with bullies of the worst sort. Atlanta cannot abide letting bad men do awful things to those who don’t deserve it. So she sets out to unleash her own brand of teenage justice.

Will Atlanta triumph? Or is fighting back just asking for a face full of bad news?

This book is intended for mature audiences due to strong language and violence.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about that disclaimer at the end. The book is undeniably dark and touches on very real issues that affect the real world. There is a difference between reading about dog fights and hate crimes and reading about violence in a fantasy setting, but I would say that most YA readers who would be interested in the plot of Atlanta Burns will have read enough dark or violent scenes in other places to handle this book.

Or I’m just biased. I’ve read a lot of dark stuff, including some adult horror-esque novels, so this book really didn’t bother me.

Also, Wendig wasn’t talking about rape, hate crimes, and dog fights for fun or to add drama. The book is written to condemn these actions, and does a fantastic job. His message would have been undermined if he didn’t portray the evils he was condemning, and the overall themes of the book are far too important to drop the book because of a few trigger alerts.

Now to actually talk about the plot and characters.

I loved Atlanta. She was screwed up–no way to sugar coat it–but it didn’t overpower the story. Though the book was told in third person, I got a powerful sense of Atlanta’s voice. It was cynical, broken, and pissed, but in an endearing way. I cared about her, and her actions made sense in the context of her DRAMATIC BACKSTORY (which I’m not going to tell you, but the book spells out pretty clearly early on). The way other characters responded to the backstory made the story more complex.

Wendig did a great job painting the rest of the side characters as well. Each one of them had a distinct personality, and the most important ones had enough backstory to be well-rounded. I never connected to Atlanta’s “friends” as much as I connected to her, but they still felt alive and complex on the page. My only complaint in this area is that there were a lot of characters, especially creepy older men, and I started to get them confused about two-thirds into the book. But that was a minor complaint–I could have just paid more attention.

The plot doesn’t follow a clear three-part structure. Atlanta Burns was originally two separate books, and it shows in the way the plot develops. However, even with this, the plot never drags. It just felt like it took the scenic route to get to the main plot line. Longer, but it allowed for a strong subplot and extra character development–which I loved. In the end, I actually enjoyed the unconventional plot style, though while I was reading it was a little confusing as to what was the focus of the book and what was subplot.

In the same vein, the plot talks about a lot of different societal issues, though most of them center around hate crimes: sexual harassment and rape, homophobia, neo-Nazism, dog fighting, bullying. Though the plot focused mostly on the dog fighting, Wendig was able to have strong messages about all of the different crimes he discussed. Again, this leaves the book a little unfocused while you read it, but powerful when you consider it in its entirety.

The writing is fantastic. Stylistically, it is unique. Sometimes I forget what it feels like to read really amazing writing, but this book brought it back. Wendig’s writing style doesn’t hit you in the face with literary devices or poetic turns of phrases–at first, it feels like you are reading just another YA novel, but then you realize: that was the perfect way to describe that. Wendig used dialect subtlety, but it transformed the book, adding to the setting and to Atlanta’s character. Though there is a lot of cursing and obscenities, the book never feels crass or vulgar. The writing actually gets more poetic and impressive with the addition of curses and dark material. Wendig is a wordsmith who arranges words in such perfect ways, you don’t even realize what he’s doing.

Crazy–something everyone should read.

Top Ten Book Related Problems I Have

top ten tuesday

 Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

I like this week’s topic, and I’m taking it as a combination of funny problems and serious ones I encounter in the bookish world.

  1. Books are expensive. 
    • I have never liked libraries (“You have to give them back?”), so I end up buying basically every book I read. Most of this is financed by gift cards I get from my birthday or Christmas, but I do end up paying some out of pocket. I love owning books and being able to lend them out to my friends, but it is not cheap. 
  2. When a book makes me cry but I’m in public. 
    • I love it when a books makes me cry; it is a cleansing experience for me. However, I do a lot of reading at school, and I’ve had some awkward times trying to hold in tears. Nowadays if I can tell that a book will have a sad ending, I’ll leave it at home and start a new book at school to avoid awkwardness. But sometime books don’t give you a warning…
  3. Massive hardcover books.
    • Again, I do most of my reading at school, which means I’m carrying around a book in my backpack 24/7. Massive hardcover books take up a ton of space in my backpack and are really heavy. Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas nearly killed me, as did The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray.
  4. Organizing my bookshelves.
    • As you can tell from my Top Shelf page, I obsessively organize books by how good they are. My sister and I have to agree. Sometimes, I’ll look at my bookshelves and freak out because I feel like a book is in a totally wrong place–and then we have to reorganize the entire system of bookshelves.
  5. Trying to decide what to read next.
    • I never know what to read next. I usually leave the decision until the morning before school. I’ll have five minutes until I need to leave and I’m just staring at my bookshelves going, “what mood am I in?” This is why I suck at “what I’ll read next” posts–they always end up being lies.
  6. Trying to get the people around me to read.
    • I love recommending books to people! It’s a game for me: matching books to people. I’ll even lend them the books (my friends joke that I’m their “book dealer”). But then they will return the book months later and will admit, “I read the first chapter.” Disappointing, but I still love them.
  7. Deciding what to do with books I didn’t like.
    • Again, I buy all my books, so if I really didn’t like a book, I still have it sitting around in my room. Sometimes I’ll put books on Paperbackswap.com (an amazing website!!!) right away, but a lot of times I just leave them on my “I hated this” shelf until I run out of bookshelf space and need to clear them out. It feels like such a waste though, to buy a book and then hate it, which is why I almost never DNF books.
  8. Reading a book too fast/too slow
    • The amount of time I have in my life to read isn’t consistent, so I end up reading some books with giant gaps of time between chapters, or reading a book in one sitting. Both of these things can negatively impact my impression of the book. Read a book too slowly and I’ll forget what I was enjoying about it. Read a book to fast and I miss important details and feel like I didn’t absorb the book in its entirety.
  9. When romance in books is so adorable it makes me give up on reality.
    • This one is basically a joke, but sometimes couples in books are so adorable it is hard to believe in “real life love.” Also, I’m in high school and most boys are jerks, so that can’t help.
  10. When really good series end
    • What are you supposed to do? I want MORE. I’ll fall in love with characters and plots and then boom–it’s over. Heart, crushed.