Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: Grave Mercy- Robin LaFevers

“When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.”

Goodreads Synopsis

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?

My Review

“... while I am Death's daughter and walk in His dark shadow, surely the darkness can give way to light sometimes.”

It was the idea of assassin nuns serving the God of Death in the murky backdrop of a nation plagued by war which compelled me to give Grave Mercy a go. Historical Fantasy was one genre I hadn't tried out yet, so I was extremely curious to see how the author would justify the various historical occurings with supernatural phenomena. The entire concept of saints/gods and their respective convents training their prodigies was an interesting one to say the least.

The book starts on a dark note with Ismae seeking escape from an abusive husband and a controlling father. She ends up at the Convent of Saint Mortain- her 'true sire'- where she trains as a torpedo to punish traitors and avenge general mistreatment of women at the hands of men. I would have liked to get more details on the training and skills she accquired at the convent, but unfortunately after a brief intro the book fast forwarded to Ismae's major assignment and court life. It was dubious that Mortain would target only men and would have only women as his handmaidens to carry out his 'noble work'. The book sort of hinged on this stereotypical idea of women as assassins and men worshipping the God of War, which was one major loophole I couldn't get over. It also seemed super lame that the God of Death would favour only the Duchess and 'marque' those who betrayed her with death.

The thing I liked most about the book was the depth of the characters- be it the devious assassin Ismae, the loyal warrior Duval or the barbarically villainous pedophile D'Albert- which made it easy to love/despise them and relate to their misery. The dialogue itself was quite fitting for 15th century Brittany and Ismae's POV was free of internal ramblings, hence showing a clear unbiased picture of the events.

“I stare at him coldly. "I do not care for needlework." I pause. "Unless it involves the base of the skull.”

The ending was a bit of a let down. Although there was some semblance of a happy ending, many questions were left unanswered and several characters' fate was left undisclosed. These were probably intended to be addressed in the sequel but I felt the author should have left some vague clues for the readers nevertheless.

So, all in all an entertaining read. If you can get over some of the flimsy facts like Mortain's sperm severely lacking the y chromosome and Death being faithful only to a 12 yr old Duchess, it would prove to be a nice read with a refreshing although a not-so-nicely executed concept.

Rating- 3/5 stars!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

ARC Review: The Boleyn King- Laura Anderson

There is always another secret...

Goodreads Synopsis

Laura Andersen brings us the first book in an enthralling trilogy set in the dramatic, turbulent, world-altering years of Tudor England. What if Anne did not miscarry her son in January 1536, but instead gave birth to a healthy royal boy? Perfect for fans of Philipa Gregory and Allison Weir.

Henry IX, known as William, is a 17-year-old king struggling at the restraints of the regency and anxious to prove himself. With the French threatening battle and the Catholics plotting at home, Will trusts only three people: his older sister, Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by Anne Boleyn. Against an undercurrent of secret documents, conflicting intelligence operations, and private murder, William fights a foreign war and domestic rebellion with equal resolve. But when he and Dominic both fall in love with Minuette, romantic obsession menaces a new generation of Tudors. Battlefields and council chambers, trials and executions, the blindness of first love and the betrayal of true friendship...How far will William go to get what he wants? Who will pay the price for a king's revenge? And what twists of fate will set Elizabeth on the path to her destiny as England's queen?

My review

Laura Anderson is the third historical fiction author I’ve tried out this year and I’m beginning to grow quite fond of the genre. I received a copy from the publisher at Netgalley for an honest review and hope that I’ve captured the book’s essence here. For my ease of dissection and the readers’ ease of comprehension I will start with the things that were spot on followed by certain aspects of the story that could’ve been better.

Where Anderson hit the nail on the head…

  • The setting of the story:- Tudor England where Anne Boleyn remains queen and Henry Tudor is deceased. Now that held scope for an excellent historical fiction novel, especially amidst all the speculation about whether Anne’s son William is the real heir to the throne or just a product of incestuous relations between Anne and Rochford.
  • Characterization and the writing style:- Great descriptions and interesting characterization. Elizabeth and Mary Tudor’s characters seemed incredibly realistic, what with Elizabeth inheriting her mother’s shrewdness and her father’s tenacity and Mary being appropriately resentful with a desire for vengeance. Dominic’s impenetrable composure and unwavering loyalty, along with William’s impulsiveness and occasional petulance (no doubt a side effect of being fawned over forever) were also quite endearing.
  • Plot:- I’d been wary about the kind of story the author would come up with- whether it would just be some meaningless love triangle or if there would actually be an intricate plot to support the intriguing assortment of characters. Seems like my fears were unfounded. Not that the romantic element was lacking in any way, but a dramatic plot and an unexpected ending only augmented the book’s appeal.
  • The love triangle:- A Tudor king, used to getting what he wants, and his loyal best friend fall for their mutual best friend, who incidentally loves them both. Need I say more?
  • Also, loved the underlying message- ‘There is always another secret’- it seemed quite chilling when used in a certain context.

Things that could’ve been better….

  • Minuette’s character was a bit of a let down sometimes. Though she seems intelligent enough, she is very confused about her love life. I suppose that’s essential to the theme of the story but owing to the fact that I dislike that in female protagonists and throwing herself at one guy and then running off to snog another was very Eleanor Howard kind of behavior, it was a little off-putting.
  • Also, I’d always thought that if Anne Boleyn had not been executed she would have the real power in the kingdom, what with her being the woman for whom Henry had given up his queen, daughter and religion. But she kind of faded into the background in the book- something that seemed just wrong,  along with Rochford having so much power at court.

But apart from these couple of minor loopholes it was quite an enjoyable read. I am quite eager to see William’s reaction to Dominic and Minuette’s relationship in the next installment and getting more info on Rochford’s schemes….

Rating:- 3/5 stars!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review: Dark Places- Gillian Flynn

The Days were a clan that mighta lived long 
But Ben Day’s head got screwed on wrong
That boy craved dark Satan’s power
 So he killed his family in one nasty hour
Little Michelle he strangled in the night 
Then chopped up Debby: a bloody sight
Mother Patty he saved for last
Blew off her head with a shotgun blast

Baby Libby somehow survived 
But to live through that ain’t much a life

Goodreads Synopsis:-
Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details—proof they hope may free Ben—Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club...and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members—including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

My Review:-

I am no more
I am undone
The devil took my soul
I am Satan's son

I'd been wanting to try out something by Gillian Flynn forever and finally decided to give in to the temptation. The book was a psychological thriller through and through. As promised by the synopsis, it was an eerie mix of horror, occult, thriller and some really freaky stuff. Most of the time I alternated between marvelling at Flynn's peculiar trail of thought and wondering if the author has some serious issues.

Most of the characters in the book were positively deranged- be it Libby with her kleptomania and indulgent afternoon daydreaming of committing suicide, the pedophile Ben and his obsession with annihilation, Lyle Wirth with his crime blogs and infatuation with murder mysteries or Diondra with her violent temper and socks fetish. The author was quite unrestrained in her vivid descriptions of murders- which successfully managed to creep me out.

I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood.

I am a liar and a thief. Don’t let me into your house, and if you do, don’t leave me alone. I take things. You can catch me with your string of fine pearls clickering in my greedy little paws, and I’ll tell you they reminded me of my mother’s and I just had to touch them, just for a second, and I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me.

Inspite of the switching of time frames and POVs, the story reads easily, although it does seem a little dragged out somewhere during the middle of the book. It was easy to visualise all the scenarios that the author put forward- even the grotesque ones- and sympathise with the characters' states of mind. Flynn successfully managed to convey the frustration of a teenage boy trapped amidst a house full of women, a shitty job and general mistreatment at the hands of the people. Lack of sufficient food and ribbing by peers only augments this resentment. Libby's near psychotic behaviour can also be easily understood from the fact that she saw her mother's and sisters' diced up entrails all over house when she was merely seven years old.

The word came from nowhere—his brain was sticky, phrases and snatches of songs were always wedging themselves in there. Annihilation. He saw flashes of Norse barbarians swinging axes. He wondered for a second, only a second, if he’d been reincarnated, and this was some leftover memory, flittering down like ash.

The element of suspense is successfully maintained throughout the book as Libby and the 'Kill Club' try to puzzle out the murder mystery and the ending was wholly unexpected. It's definitely not a book for the faint hearted- as it could dredge up memories of The American Psycho and Carrie ( not the kind I would want to rekindle)- or for those who hit the ceiling over Satan worship, occult practices and animal sacrifice.

But then kudos to Gillian Flynn for writing a truly freaky novel. 3 stars for the plot and engaging characters and another half for the gore!

Rating:- 3.5/5 stars!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Best Kept Secret- Jeffrey Archer

Anyone can be a good winner. The sign of a great man is how you handle defeat.

The third instalment of the Clifton Chronicles turns out to be as mesmerising as promised, with a flawlessly written story and enchanting characters coupled with a killer cliffhanger for an ending.

The book begins directly where Sins of The Father left out, with the House of Lords stuck in a tie as to who should inherit the Barrington fortune. (Archer seems to love tied voting situations. Reminds me of the epic square off in the Sons of Fortune and the hung jury in A Prisoner of Birth.) After a startling decision by the Lord Chancellor, Harry returns to America to try to earn a spot in the top 15 of the bestseller list, while Emma departs to search for the little girl found in Hugo's office the night he was killed. Giles returns to contest for a seat as an MP of Bristol Docklands and young Sebastian returns to school in hopes of earning a scholarship to Cambridge. But then, when do things go as planned? Sebastian is rusticated from school for his...ahem...'indiscretions'....

'He was caught drinking in his study with a serving maid.'
And that was considered worthy of rustication?'
I might have turned a blind eye, as it was last week of the term, but unfortunately neither of them had any clothes on.'

.....and he unwittingly becomes embroiled in an international art fraud. The book ends with a damning cliffy which would ultimately decide the fate of the Cliftons.

The book kept me on an edge from start to finish and at times had me marvelling at Archer's ingenuousness. 

Best I have read in a while. Carefully thought out and perfectly executed with high doses of suspense and drama that kept me hooked on till the end.
*spoiler*  pg 123- Elizabeth Barrington was one formidably lady, a force to be reckoned with. For readers who don't know any more Latin than Occultus Regere (like me), Elizabeth wanted the judge to know she was in her right mind when she made the second will. Compost Mentis is the anagram of Common pests I which literally means in my right mind. Only Archer could have thought of that little bit of genius.

Awesome as always. I particularly liked Sebastian- rebellious but not arrogant, definitely not family disowning or prejudiced, loyal and intelligent, quite a charmer. Giles married a cunt though- Lady Virginia was bitchiness redefined. Fischer also makes an interesting comeback to settle old scores. 

Writing Style?
Apt, to the point, distinctly British and quite flawless, as is characteristic of Jeffrey Archer.

Had my jaws on the floor for several seconds before I bothered to pick it back up, read the page again and repeated the procedure. Definitely had me begging for more!

So, a gripping tale, filled with action, intrigue, drama and suspense earns a well deserved 4/5 rating! Highly recommended for thriller/mystery enthusiasts!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review: Graffiti Moon- Cath Crowley

The way you dance definitely isn't stupid
I could maybe get used to the way you move
I'm not saying I've made up my mind
But you know, I almost, almost kind of like you

I wasn't too sure about this book after reading the synopsis as it appeared to be one of those books- the ones without story or substance. However, I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be one of the best YA novels I've read in a long time.

It's the end of year 12 and Lucy is looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist.

The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers. 

Most of the city walls are decorated with his work and his friend's Poet's words, but they are nowhere to be found. After an unfortunate first encounter with love, Lucy thinks that Shadow is the guy for her. Ed, the last boy she wants in her sights tells her that he might help her locate the man of her dreams. As the night progresses Ed shows her Shadows works- most of them echoing escape and heartache. A roller-coaster night that skips from wild parties in clubs to the hidden parts of the city might just help Lucy find what she's looking for.

Great dialogue, excellent poetry and deep and real characters make the story a winner. The story reads easily with the occasional bouts of hilarity, lots of angst and a subtle romance. Poet's efforts to put emotions on paper, Shadow's ability to reflect pain, loneliness and hopelessness in his drawings, Lucy's determination to locate the tortured graffiti artist and a simple story written in an amazing manner earns it a 4/5 rating! 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: Heist Society- Ally Carter

Thieves aren't supposed to want too much--which is ironic, but true. Never live anyplace you can't walk away from. Never own anything you can't leave behind. 

The book came along with some glowing recommendations from reliable reviewers and I finally decided to give it a try. And to say the least, I was quite impressed with the entire setting of the book. A family of brilliant conmen/women- ranging from pickpockets to Mona Lisa forgers to people involved in billion dollar art heists, a band of ingenuous teenagers on the loose, trying to rob the most secure museum in the world and a dangerous money hungry criminal who's threatening to ruin everything....

Need I say more?

Katerina Bishop had decided to take a break from 'family business' and had enrolled in Colgan Boarding School. But then thieves aren't meant to have uneventful lives. Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring Kat back into the world she tried so hard to escape from. And with good reason too- a powerful mobster has been robbed off of five priceless paintings and wants to retrieve them. The suspect list has just one name on it- Kat's father. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Bobby Bishop is in need of help. 

But how does Kat go about returning paintings that he had never stolen? 

There is but one solution- to track down the real thief and steal them back. But infiltrating one of the most secure places on the planet has to be more than a little difficult. But with a talented teenage crew, oodles of determination and just a pinch of insanity, Kat might just be able to pull off the the biggest heist in family history.

The writing style of the book was quite cool with the readers getting an intriguing insight into the lives of Kat and her family.

Kat used to love Paris. She remembered being there with her parents--eating croissants, visiting a pyramid, and carrying six red balloons. It wasn't until years later that she realized it hadn't been a fun family outing--that actually they'd been casing the Louvre at the time.

"And your father?" he asked, unwilling to let a conveniently deceased mother swing any sympathy votes Kat's way. "What does he do?"
"Art," Kat said simply, carefully. "He does a lot of things, but he specializes in art."
At this, the head of the fine arts department perked up. "Collecting?" the man asked.
Again Kat had to fight back a smile. "More like ... distribution." 

Kat's character was made headstrong and brave. She is independent and stubborn, unafraid to undertake an impossible task and take it to completion. W.W Hale the fifth, or just Hale as he is commonly known, is the multibillionaire heir who enjoys the occasional heist. Abandoned by negligent parents and having a loaded bank account allows him some very convenient liberties.

I'm at the Knightsbury Institute now."
"I've never heard of it."
"My father got a letter just last week telling him that I have become a model student."
"Congratulations," Kat said, doubting it.
"Yeah, well, I'm the only student." He grinned a very Hale-like grin. "Of course, the downside of attending a fictional school is that our lacrosse team sucks. 

The rest of the heist society consists of a gadget junkie on his way to becoming Einstein No.2, an electrifying beauty on the prowl, two brothers blacklisted for stealing from a nun and a pickpocket newbie with a British accent and a charming smile.

The story was riveting, full of twists and turns. It was interesting to see how Kat and her friends manoeuvred their way across impossible situations, found loopholes in the security system of one of the safest museums in the world and succeeded in playing Mr Bad Guy at his own game. The story will remind you of Neal Caffrey and Mozzie of White Collar (imagine their teenage versions) and the witty writing style and unique concept brings back memories of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts heist of 1972. Fast, fun and full of intrigue.

4/5 stars!