Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

grave-mercyGrave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers, published in 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Author. Goodreads. Amazon. Book Depository. Barnes & Noble.

Source: purchased + e-ARC via Netgalley (thank you, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for providing me with this free e-copy in exchange for an honest review; this was a “read now” title on Netgalley, along with the sequel, Dark Triumph, as the final part, Mortal Heart is coming soon).

Genre: YA historical fantasy.

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. 

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart? (Goodreads)

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My rating: 3.5/5.

This was actually a re-read for me, as I’ve bought and read the book when it first came out, but now I spotted it (and its sequel) on Netgalley and decided to give it another try, because I wasn’t too impressed at the time but now I kept seeing such good reviews around the blogosphere. And I’m glad I gave it another shot! I even changed my rating from 3/5 to 3.5/5! ;) This was meant to be a mini-review, but I think the book deserves more.

I liked the historical setting with a slight touch of fantasy that LaFevers cooked up here. I don’t know whether the historical facts are totally accurate or not, even though I had some French history at the University. I never was very good at remembering the political stuff. But it’s fun to read about – the intrigues are complex but not overwhelmingly detailed, so the main storyline is never obscured by irrelevant data. This is a difficult balance to achieve!

I find it hard to understand, though, why authors insist on using pseudo-historical language in fantasy novels with a historical touch, especially when the language spoken in that country would never have been English! Here, we’re set in Bretagne, so it makes no sense whatsoever that Ismae sometimes talks like she escaped from a bad romantic novel. Furthermore, even if it was English they were speaking, it was a totally different language in the 15th century, so there’s that. Such language always manages to kick me right out of the story…

I would have liked to read more about the training of the assassin nuns (yep, you read that right), as the process of education is outlined on a couple of pages and then we re-enter Ismae’s story three years later when she’s sent on her first killing mission. But I guess we can’t have everything and the author chose to focus on the courtly intrigue/romance instead.

There are some nice pieces of writing in the novel, however, and I liked the characters and the plot, so I’d recommend this to anyone wishing for a nice YA historical fantasy. While Ismae is somewhat slow in accepting that her convent’s orders aren’t all that innocent, she’s a cool girl underneath it all, and goes through a steady process of empowerment that I enjoyed. Gavriel is a particularly fine protagonist as well, and I salute the fact that there’s no insta-love or love triangles in this story!

Favourite line: “We serve as handmaidens to Death.” (so cool.)

I’m currently reading the second part of the series, Dark Triumph (stay tuned for the review), and then I hope it’ll be good enough for me to go on to the last one!!

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Have you read this one? What did you think? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts! :)

A Horrible Confession

It’s that time of year again.

The second half of October is, in the eyes of the English-speaking world, a time for carving pumpkins, picking a scary costume and reading horror books. In other words, Halloween’s coming!

In Slovenia, we typically never celebrated Halloween as a holiday. We do get a free day for November 1, All Saints’ Day, and visit the graves of the people who meant something to us and passed away. We also light loads of candles. In recent years, however, Halloween parties have become more popular, especially among the student population (costume parties are always a favourite). :)

But I don’t like it. I find it weird that Anglo-American habits are leaking into our culture, even though I’m all for multiculturality. At a risk of souding like a grumpy old lady, it’s a very commercial practice, what with the spooky paraphernalia and costumes – much like Valentine’s Day which was never a huge thing in Slovenia until the arrival of American pop culture. We have a holiday called Pust (at the beginning of Lent), when we dress up in all sorts of costumes and try to chase winter away.

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To be honest, though, much of my dislike for Halloween stems from my intense dislike of anything horror-related. I am a total chicken when it comes to movies and books that are even remotely scary.

I used to watch horror movies, but I stopped because they gave me nightmares. I specifically remember the last horror movie I saw, the original version of Rec, which is so terrifying I can’t even think about it without shuddering. Seriously, it’s a problem for me. I once walked out of the movie theatre when I realised a movie we were going to see was a horror story (it was The Orphanage and I’m really glad I didn’t stay because little kids’ ghosts are just something I can’t deal with).

I’m not sure I ever read any true horror books, unless Bram Stoker’s Dracula counts as one, and I didn’t finish that one because my brother scared the living hell out of me when he jumped at me, yelling like a crazy person, while I was reading it. I’m telling you, I’m not a fan of scary stuff.

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But the truth is that this dislike for everything scary extends to real life situations as well. I hate walking alone at night, even though I live in a safe neighbourhood, and I always had problems with walking through the woods at night, even though I’m a scout. We used to have night orientation races and I always got through them on an adrenaline high and then had to eat loads of chocolate afterwards. I don’t like being alone in houses where I feel people can see in when I can’t see what’s happening outside. Seriously, people, the dark just gets me.

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This is why I don’t participate in any horror readalongs or fall events. Everything seems to be centered around getting scared as much as possible and my fragile self just can’t deal with that! :) I really like autumn as far as the colours and the weather and the clothes and the food go, but I tend to ignore much of the cultural stuff in this time of year.

However, I recently realized that I am not alone! There are other people who hate horror and scary stuff, so I’m thinking about giving this Halloween stuff a chance next year. Here is a very nice list of “Creepy Reads for Squeamish Readers”, if you’re like me and interested in getting into the mood regardless of your fears, and here is a guide to books with witches and dark magic, which, I admit, aren’t all that bad (and not as scary, usually)!

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Do you like Halloween? How about reading/watching horror? Do you share my dislike for anything that gives you goosebumps?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, people, so come and share! :)

Gorgeous Autumn Days

DSC_0054In the beginning of October, we made our first longer day trip since the baby was born. My mum had recently broken her hip (a total freak accident) and spent some time in a rehabilitation center an hour’s drive away from Ljubljana. We went for a leisurely stroll that suited both my mum and the kid (who slept through the entire thing).

DSC_0065Otočec (I have no idea how to explain the pronunciation of this to English speakers, so just make something up in your mind) has a castle on a small island on the river Krka. It’s not particularly well-fortified and I don’t think it ever served as a military outpost, but it’s been there since before the 13th century (that’s when it was first mentioned), so it’s an important piece of cultural heritage. It’s the only “water castle” in Slovenia.

DSC_0108It has been renovated and now houses a very fancy restaurant and hotel. More info here and here.

DSC_0070The river Krka is really beautiful and people often swim in it during the summer – it’s also great for boating. There was a very stoic fisherman sitting on one bank and I swear he didn’t move a muscle in the two hours we spent on the island.

DSC_0077The island surrounding the castle is actually a park which was particularly beautiful in the golden afternoon light (I don’t know these two but they make for a nice picture, no?).

DSC_0098We’ve been having such beautiful days this September and October and I’m really glad – it means I can take a stroll with the baby every day and don’t have to worry (too much) about him getting a cold.

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Are you enjoying autumn as well?

What are your favourite activities for this time of year?

The Prince Who Loved Me by Karen Hawkins

the-prince-who-loved-meThe Prince Who Loved Me (The Oxenburg Princes #1) by Karen Hawkins, published in September 2014 by Pocket Books.

Author. Goodreads. Amazon. Book Depository. Barnes & Noble.

Sourcepurchased.

Genrehistorical romance.

Prince Alexsey Romanovin enjoys his carefree life, flirting—and more—with every lovely lady who crosses his path. But when the interfering Grand Duchess Natasha decides it’s time for her grandson to wed, Alexsey finds himself in Scotland, determined to foil her plans. Brainy, bookish, and bespectacled, Bronwyn Murdoch seems the perfect answer—she isn’t at all to the duchess’ taste. 

Living at the beck and call of her ambitious stepmother and social butterfly stepsisters, Bronwyn has little time for a handsome flirt—no matter how intoxicating his kisses are. After all, no spoiled, arrogant prince would be seriously interested in a firm-minded female like herself. So . . . wouldn’t it be fun to turn his “game” upside down and prove that an ordinary woman can bring a prince to his knees? (Goodreads)

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My rating: 3.5/5.

I will probably always auto-buy Karen Hawkins’ books. They are my favourite kind of historical romance – light and fluffly with enough substance and humour to make for a very, very entertaining read. That said, this one was good, but not my favourite. I’ve done a mini review of one that embodies all that I love about her writing, The Taming of a Scottish Princess, so if you’re looking for a place to start, I’d go with this Hurst amulet series, not The Oxenburg Princes.

So what made me rate this one a bit lower despite the fact that Hawkins’ writing is still spot-on?

I didn’t particularly care for the hero. And since reading romance is all about falling for the hero (isn’t it?), that’s where my main problem lies. Alexsey is a prince and is used to getting what he wants – and is a bit of a douche because of it. It doesn’t help that Bron (the heroine) is wildly attracted to the man; resisting him is really out of the question and this just supports the very good opinion he has of himself. I missed some flaws to his character or… I don’t know, something more.

Other than that, I also missed some drama. Ugh, I know, I just said that I like my romances light and fluffy, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be some conflict! There was some usual tension and indecision on both sides, but there was never really any doubt as to the protagonists’ final decision. I mean, I know that in romance, the final decision is “happily ever after” in some 95 % of cases, but still. I like to see some indecision, internal struggles and such.

But I really liked the spin on the Cinderella theme – I haven’t seen one quite like this before and I think it’s actually very forward for a genre where tropes are a must and innovation is usually frowned upon. I can’t really say much more than this without giving away too much, sorry.

All in all, I’d still heartily recommend this novel to all lovers of Karen Hawkins and historical romance, but if you’re new to the genre, start somewhere else and work your way up to this one once you’ve fallen in love with her writing. Since this is the beginning of a series and this prince has several brothers, I think we’re looking at wonderful entertainment in the near future. I can’t wait!

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Have you read any good historical romances lately? I’d love a recomemndation! :)

Thursday Thoughts: Love Triangles

thursday-thoughts-bannerThursday Thoughts is a weekly discussion meme hosted by Ashley at Ok, Let’s Read! She has a linky on her site so even if you don’t participate, make sure you check out other bloggers’ links!

This week, we’re talking about love triangles. Do I hate them? Love them? Feel like they’re overdone? Do I think they deserve a chance if they’re done properly?

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First of all, I’d like to go on record saying that in real life, love triangles are just a bad idea. I understand feeling something for more than one person at a time but I genuinely think that it’s usually just a case of someone being to scared to admit they’re unhappy in one relationship and want out, but don’t know how to do it.

But in fiction, love triangles usually serve as a plot device. They’ve been used for centuries, the Queen of Romance (that’s not an official title, as far as I know, it just felt appropriate), Jane Austen, being one of those who excelled at them. So yes, I think love triangles can be great if they’re executed properly. See, Jane knew what she was doing – she made Wickham really appealing at first but gave him a nasty, nasty character, for example, while she made Darcy really gruff and gave him a heart of gold. So in the end, Elizabeth had no doubt she was making the right decision.

Nowadays, however, there’s an overabundance of love triangles where the heroine (let’s face it, it’s usually 1 girl + 2 boys) seems really confused about who is the right choice. Take Bella (Twilight), for example. I wanted to beat her over the head with something really heavy when she was oscillating between Edward and Jacob – I just think there’s no way a person can feel like that about two people at once. It might be my appalling lack of experience in love-related drama (I was lucky that way, I guess), but there you have it.

I dislike love triangles where the heroine leads both guys on, only to choose the obvious one in the end and leave the other broken-hearted, so someone else has to pick up the pieces. Again, Bella seems like a really good example of this – and Meyer did the creepy thing, making Jacob fall for Bella’s baby daughter instead…

But the bookish community seems to thrive on love triangles – there’s always the question of Team Jacob versus Team Edward, and I’ve even seen book bloggers feature banners which declare their allegiance. I guess I always choose sides in such a situation, as well: Team Ziri over Team Akiva (Daughter of Smoke and Bone), Team Chaol over Team Dorian (Throne of Glass), Team Jem over Team Will (Infernal Devices).

So the bottom line is: I think love triangles can be good if executed properly. But I do think that stashing one in every novel with a slight romantic twist might not be a good idea – there are other ways of building tension within a romantic relationship, after all.

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What’s your take on love triangles? Are you fed up with them?

Or do you like to choose a side and root for the guy you prefer?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! :)