Author Interview: Robin LaFevers on Grave Mercy

Robin LaFevers author photoRobin LaFevers’ first YA historical fantasy Grave Mercy came out earlier in 2012. I was already a fan of Robin’s middle grade series featuring Nathaniel Fludd. This start to a series about assassin nuns in 1485 Brittany is another winner. Robin is here today to answer some questions about Grave Mercy.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Robin LaFevers (RL): I began writing when I was staying at home with my two small sons, looking for something for just ‘me’ and a way to maintain my sanity. I decided I would return to writing, something I’d loved as a teen but put aside for the real world. It took about ten years of practicing, attending classes and workshops, and writing some pretty awful stuff, but then my first book was accepted for publication, which was just as magical a moment as one thinks it will be.

MP: What was the inspiration for Grave Mercy?

RL: I knew I wanted to write the story of a girl who was utterly powerless and put her through all the trials and ordeals that would shape her into an instrument of power—not just physical power, but also the power to stand firmly in her own self and make her own choices and decisions.

For that kind of story, I needed a big, sweeping canvas with high stakes and lives and kingdoms at risk, and a time when teens were in a position shape the world around them. That search brought me to the middle ages and a world full of sacred relics, patron saints, and lots of social turbulence.

Then I stumbled across another fascinating research tidbit and learned that many women in the Middle Ages preferred joining a convent to marriage because convent life gave them more independence and autonomy than they could ever have as married women! That kind of lit my imagination on fire and began to play with what sort of convent would be the best avenue for my heroine’s journey, and I decided on a convent that would give her power over life and death.

MP: Although it is a fantasy, Grave Mercy is grounded in its historical setting of 1485 Brittany. What kind of research did it take to write about this time period? (Note to readers: If you want to know more about the history behind the story Robin posted an author’s note on her website here: http://www.robinlafevers.com/history/)

RL: One of the (many!) things I love about research is that not only I learn amazing details of how people lived and thought centuries ago, but there is such great story material as well. I’m not sure I could have dreamed up a twelve year old inheriting a kingdom, but once I stumbled across it in my research, I knew that was the perfect backdrop for the book.

Then I researched the time period, the politics, the geography, what everyday life was like back then, and the folklore and spiritual beliefs. I acquired all sorts of wonderful research books. (In fact, my husband insists I only write so I have an excuse to buy research books!) Luckily, I write in the age of Google, so I had access to a wealth of information, oftentimes I was able to look up ancient Breton lineages on obscure genealogy sites, or I would find that the walled medieval city where Anne lived still existed and I could see it online. I would spend hours studying the geography of Brittany, which lords owned which parts of the country and who was aligned with whom. Thank goodness for university websites and devoted history buffs, that’s all I can say!

MP: One of the best things about Grave Mercy is how seamlessly it blends history and fantasy. How did you approach writing about characters in this distinct time period? How did you go about capturing the right “voice” for your characters?

RL: One of the things I find most fascinating about writing historical fantasy is really trying to understand the worldview of people living in earlier times. What was life like without technology, where there was little understanding of science or the laws of physics and so much of life felt random and out of one’s control? Since Ismae belonged to a convent that served Death, what would her faith look like? How would her devotion be tested? What sorts of rituals would her life entail? Those questions were in the forefront of my mind whenever I sat down to write and helped me get into the head of a 15th century girl—what metaphors and similes would she use? What points of reference would she have? So that was probably the key to having her feel medieval on the page.

I also tried to (mostly!) use words that were only in use prior to the 16th century or phrases that felt reminiscent of that era. I definitely fudged sometimes; when the choice came down to readability I went for that over historical accuracy every time, because my overriding goal was that the story and the voice of Ismae be accessible to today’s teen reader.

MP: When you are not writing about teen nun assassins as Robin LaFevers you write books for younger readers as R. L. LaFevers including the Theodosia books and the much loved (by me) Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist series. What is it like writing for these different audiences? Does your writing process change?

RL: I wouldn’t so much say that my process changes, but that my sensibility changes. I am very aware of my younger audience when writing for them and feel very protective of their sensibilities–wanting to go dark enough to be spooky, but not so dark as to radically upset their worldview or perceptions of the world as essentially a safe place.

With Grave Mercy, I pretty much had to UNlearn all of those habits and give myself permission to cut loose. It was particularly difficult because I had Sister Lorna, my teacher in Catholic school when I was in 2nd grade, lurking on my shoulder quite a lot and muttering about irreverence and inappropriateness. It took a while to dislodge her, but I eventually did. :-)

MP: Although all of your books have very different characters and plots, all of your titles (so far) are set in the past—albeit pasts with a bit more fantasy than ours. What draws you to the historical genre as a writer? What draws you to fantasy?

RL: I think one of the things that fascinates me is that history feels like the place where magic and reality meet–so it feels like rich and fertile ground. So many of the things we think of as fantastical actually have their roots in history, whether old religions, folklore, ancient cultural practices, or mystery schools, so I like drawing from those sources because it grounds stories in the realities of the past and makes them feel more real. Also?I think it’s just hard-wired into me, a desire to see the small magics and mysteries that make life more interesting.

Also, one of the themes I’m drawn to is the issue of personal power and taking kids from feeling powerless to a place where they begin to feel as if they have some power over their lives. Fantastical power is a lovely, subtext-laden vehicle for personal power.

MP: When she arrives at the convent of St. Mortmain, Ismae discovers an affinity for poisons. Other daughters of Mortmain have other gifts to use in completing their god’s work. If you were to be a daughter of Mortmain what gifts would you have hoped to receive from Mortmain?

RL: I’ve always been drawn to the idea that death can be merciful or a gentle release, so I would definitely want gentle gifts of some sort, those that would allow me to ease people into death. A benevolent poison perhaps, or the misericorde.

MP: Set during a turbulent time in Brittany’s history, Grave Mercy is filled with political machinations and intrigue. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

RL: Gah! I nearly broke my poor brain trying to manage all that. I used colored index cards, complex timelines, plot diagrams, character grids broken down by act, colored pens. Pretty much any tool I could think of that would allow me to break down the elements into manageable pieces so I could then use the left side of my brain to reconstruct them in the best way possible. It also took about seventeen drafts over five years, which should give you an idea of how much I wrestled with it.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

RL: My next project is Dark Triumph, the second book in the assassin nun series. Sybella is such a different character than Ismae! For one, she is noble born, not the daughter of a turnip farmer. But she has had a much darker and more traumatic past. And she is far angrier and more unstable than Ismae ever was, and has far more dark impulses of her own that she struggles to control. For all the bad things that had happened to her, Ismae was fairly innocent. Sybella however, has made some bad choices that have truly haunted her.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

RL: 1. Write because you love it.
2. Give yourself the luxury of a long apprenticeship–allow yourself to really learn the craft and experiment with different styles and forms.
3. When you have learned the basics of the craft, then sit down and write that book. You know, the one you’re terrified to write. The one that is too hard, too scary, too weird, or too damn intimidating. Yeah, that one. That’s the one I can’t wait to read!

Thanks again to Robin LaFevers for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find more information about her books on her website.

If you want to read more about Gravey Mercy check out my review!

Tiger Lily: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love  story, but not like any you’ve heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win. In some places, there is something ultimately good about endings. In Neverland, that is not the case.”

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn AndersonNeverland is a beautiful, dangerous place. It’s an island where aging can be contagious, mermaids can drown you, and pirates terrorize the Lost Boys who are so savage they might eat you–boys who, according to rumors, might even fly. There are also the Cliff Dwellers and the Bog Dwellers. And somewhere between the two, the Sky Eaters, who remember every sunset they see and fear the wrath of their gods as much as the dreaded aging sickness.

For a place that is so small and hidden away, Neverland can be a very large place. Especially for a fairy. Fairies are mute, unable to speak but also empathic and tuned to everything around them. Before she was called Tinker Bell, she knew Tiger Lily and her history–part of the Sky Eaters but also half feral and hungry for more–as much an outsider in her tribe as one stubborn fairy.

Like everyone else, Tiger Lily (and Tink too) know to stay away from the Lost Boys and the fierce boy named Pan who leads them.

But when Tiger Lily saves one life it sets her on a path that will lead her directly to Peter Pan and threaten everything she holds dear as one small fairy tells the story of a love that might always have been doomed and her own small role in Tiger Lily (2012) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

Find it on Bookshop.

If you haven’t guessed already, Tiger Lily is a retelling of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. This version, however, focuses on what happens before Wendy ever arrives in Neverland. It is also narrated by my favorite character, Tinker Bell.

While it seems strange, giving a mute character the chance to narrate a story, it works well in Tiger Lily. Able to observe many things and intuit emotions, Tinker Bell is almost an omniscient narrator who often fades away until something important must be told.

Tiger Lily builds Neverland into a place that is both marvelous and monstrous as Tiger Lily and Tink explore all of its dangers and beauties. Part-retelling, part love story,this novel is also a complex examination of how colonization and industrialization changed the world.

Anderson expertly separates Tiger Lily from its source material to make Tiger Lily a complicated, flawed character who finally has her own voice. Tinker Bell is equally well-realized as the novel focuses not just on Tiger Lily and Peter’s difficult romance but also Tink’s evolving relationship with the characters. Tiger Lily is an unconventional, satisfying story that starts with Peter Pan but becomes much more before its conclusion.

Possible Pairings: Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, Everland by Wendy Spinale, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Tour de Christmas 2012: In which I (belatedly) share photos of NYC Holiday displays

[It took an entire year to get these posts up on the blog but finally, finally I can say my 2012 Tour de Christmas post is up.]

I love Christmas and in recent years I’ve been working on making my own traditions. That has meant hosting a cookie swap party every year. It also means something I call Tour de Christmas which is a one-day blitz of all of the likely NYC tourist destinations in Manhattan including holiday trees and windows.

My friend Nicole (AKA The Book Bandit) joined me once again for this second annual Tour de Christmas.

This year Nicole and I started at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we headed to the Renaissance wing to see the museum’s Angel Tree.

The tree arguably looks the same every year but the landscape beneath the tree seemed especially intricate this year. Also, there was an elephant:

And of course photos with both myself (left) and Nicole (right) to prove we were actually there:

After that we saw a classy gingerbread house in a store window by FAO Schwarz before heading over to Bergdorf Goodman:

Bergdorf’s 2012 windows theme was the BG Follies of 2012 with each window comprising a different act. I always love Bergdorf’s windows but some of these were my favorites not just for 2012 but ever.

Act VIII featured two handsome dancers–possibly doing a tango?

Act VII had a walrus tamer (or perhaps a trainer):

My personal favorite, ACT IV had a dog trainer:

Honestly I took so many pictures at Bergdorf that this post would be a mile long if I shared all of them so consider these the highlights (I link to all of my photos at the end of this post if you’re into that kind of thing).

Here’s Nicole with a different BG window called “By Request”

And here I am with the “Naughty or Nice” window (I was obviously nice!)

We then passed Bulgari’s strange diamond snake on our way to Tiffany’s (only to see the windows, alas).

Tiffany’s again did cute little miniature windows this time with room interiors featuring jewelry, decorations and that signature Tiffany blue.

After that it was a short walk down to Rockefeller Center. We passed a few holiday displays on the way:

Including a lego Christmas window just begging to be photographed!

Until finally we came face to trunk with the Rockefeller Center Tree.

And took some obligatory quasi holiday card shots like this one:

We will leave Rockefeller Center with a final shot of the tree that I took risking life and limb (and getting yelled at by the Center’s diligent security guards):

Then we did the Lord & Taylor windows which were okay. Unfortunately the store sets suck a high standard with their displays that this year’s windows seemed weak by comparison.

And then the Macy’s windows which were so jumbled that even now I’m still not sure what I saw. Their displays have taken a significant dip since the designers started relying so heavily on smart screen technology.

And then after the Macy’s window displays it was truly the end of the Tour de Christmas 2012.

 

 

I hope this post finds  everyone in good health and high spirits whether you celebrate Christmas or a different holiday entirely (or perhaps even several at once). Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you, dear readers.

If you would like to see all of my photos from the Tour de Christmas 2011, you can find them on my website.

In which I get some lovely gifts and promise some others.

It may not be Christmas yet but I’ve already gotten some early gifts that I get to share here on the blog.

First, I partipated in Reddit’s  secret santa gift exchange which was interesting as it also introduced me to Reddit. (I understand about 30% of it as this point I think.)

I have no idea who my santa was BUT I have gotten this delightful print:

reddit print gift

Since you, dear readers, are my people most of you will already recognize this print for what it is: The Police Call Box from Dr. Who printed on a dictionary page. I love dictionary page prints. And I’m fond of the call box in Dr. Who. (I like Dr. Who but I stopped watching after Donna Noble’s departure because OMG DONNA NOBLE.)

This year I also participated in the Cold Nights and Warm Books holiday swap which was a blast. I had so much fun putting together my gift and got a very lovely gift myself. Thank you so much to Enna at Squeaky Books and Emily at Emily’s Reading Room for putting this together.

Then, of course, thank you to Mariah at A Reader’s Adventure for my wonderful gift!

(And of course read on for pictures!)

2012swap1

Since this was a book swap, books are to be expected. Mariah was very generous sending not only Book of a Thousand Days and The Last Dragonslayer (both of which I’m looking forward to reading) but also pre-ordering Paper Valentine for me!

2012swap2

Then I also got a ton of cool postcard and bookmarks (including a signed one for The Archived, yay!), two rubber bracelets (the green one is for Beautiful Redemption and I’m wearing it right now), and some adorable penguin cookies.

Thanks again Mariah!

Also, in a very serendipitous turn of events, my swap package from the Book Blogger Holiday Swap came the same day I was exchanging gifts with Nicole of the Book Bandit’s blog. I say serendipitous because that swap did not run quite as smoothly this year and also because for that swap I was giving gifts to Nicole, my real life friend as regular readers might know. How crazy is all of that timing and matching!?

Thank you so much to Steph of The Fake Steph for my lovely gifts. She sent me a beautiful, soft, handmade purple scarf that is as warm and comfy as it looks, a copy of Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel, which I get more excited about every time I see it, and a chocolate orange which I am very eager to try.

swap2012b

Thanks again Steph!

Now for the gifts I’m promising:

My blog is getting very close to 100,000 views. When that happens I’m going to be doing a couple of things:

First: As always I will be giving away books. This includes an ARC of Prodigy, a signed ARC of The Raven Boys and some other cool books that you will definitely want.

Second: I over-estimated my holiday swap gifts so I have two wrapped mystery books to give away as part of the 100k celebration. ALSO if you happen to visit the blog and catch the stat counter at 100,000 and send me a screen shot–that’s an auto-win. Instant mystery book. Currently the blog is hovering near 96,450 views so I’m hoping to hit 100k in February. (January would be more exciting but I don’t want to over-reach.)

So there you have it! Thank you again so, so much to my lovely gift givers. I hope you all get equally lovely things this holiday season.

The Dark Unwinding: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon CameronKatharine Tullman does not want to send her uncle to an asylum anymore than she wants to please her horrible aunt by doing so. Unfortunately Katharine very rarely gets to do anything near what she wants–not if she ever hopes to secure even the smallest bit of independence for herself.

When Katharine arrives at her uncle’s estate she soon realizes that dealing with her uncle is not going to be as cut and dry as she had hoped. Instead of a lunatic she finds her uncle is an incredibly gifted but eccentric inventor. Instead of a ramshackle estate near ruin she finds a village filled with workers rescued from London workhouses.

As Katharine explores the estate and learns more about her uncle, matters become more complicated as she is taken in my a handsome apprentice and an ambitious student. Soon, she realizes she is starting to care about her uncle and his household more than she can afford to given rising questions of her own future. And her own sanity.

With mysteries all around her and far more at stake than she can imagine, Katharine will have to decide who to trust and who to protect in The Dark Unwinding (2012) by Sharon Cameron.

The Dark Unwinding is Cameron’s first novel.

In a delightful blend of suspense, steampunk and historical drama, Cameron has created a delightful world with compelling characters and a plot filled with twists and excitements. The story perfectly captures the wonder of Uncle Tullman’s estate and the urgency felt by everyone who wants to keep it safe.

The question of Katharine’s own sanity and the mysteries surrounding the estate add another satisfying dimension to the story. Best of all Cameron’s writing is wonderful throughout giving each character a unique voice and bringing them to life. The beautiful prose elevates what could have been a sensational action story into something more as Katharine is forced to confront of her own principles and grow as a character as her priorities (and loyalties) change.

The Dark Unwinding is a marvelous book that will linger with readers. The undercurrent of suspense and mystery make it a perfect read for a dark winter night.

Possible Pairings: Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

12 for 2012

It was incredibly hard to pick just twelve books for this list. (Even limiting myself to just 2012 publications was difficult as I read so many wonderful books this year.) My original list included 19 titles–all of which I did really enjoy. But, there can be only twelve (until 2013 anyway!) so, without further ado here are . . .

My Twelve Most Favorite books from 2012 (in alphabetical order):

  1. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken: In addition to being one of my favorite books from 2012, this was also one of my most anticipated. I’m so excited that it’s finally out so everyone can start talking about it with me!
  2. The Diviners by Libba Bray: 1920s mystery/thriller with supernatural elements and romance set in New York City? There was never a chance of this one being less than a favorite for me.
  3. The Selection by Kiera Cass: One of the most surprising books I read this year. I went into it expecting something silly and unsatisfying. I got a nuanced and unlikely blend of The Bachelor TV show and The Hunger Games. I still can’t pinpoint the details but everything about this one just makes me very happy when I think about it.
  4. Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley: Another very anticipated title. Cath Crowley can do no wrong in my view. Filled with references to modern art, musings on love, multiple viewpoints, poetry and such beautiful writing. If I could bottle how I felt after finishing this book, I’d be rich.
  5. Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst: I love Sarah Beth Durst and was so happy to hear about this one. A fantasy with gods and goddesses, storytellers, tricksters, magic and a mysterious journey! And a book that manages to turn the original story upside down without ruining everything and a love rhombus? Trust me, it’s as fabulous as it sounds. (And bonus points for the diverse cast!)
  6. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: As a reader I grew up on high fantasies. With a complex world filled with subtle language and politics (and dragons) all its own, this one fits right in with the fantasies of my childhood. The writing is beautiful and the story is exciting but I think my favorite part was Seraphina’s journey throughout the story as she learned: “We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.”
  7. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers: Regular readers will know of my love affair with Robin’s series for younger readers: Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist. So when I heard she was writing a YA series I was all over it even when the series premise did not sound like my usual fare. (Assasin nuns? In Brittany? In 1485?) I was so wrong to worry. With wild machinations, a protagonist who questions authority and nods to familiar mythology by another name, this one had everything I want in a book.
  8. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: This book (along with #12) are probably the books of BEA 2012. Aside from being much anticipated, this one completely blew me away. A post-apocalyptic retelling of Persuasion with sci-fi elements is bound to be cool. I was so pleasantly surprised when I found it was also simply stunning.
  9. Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan: A gothic tale that flips gender roles, riffs on imaginary friends, and features a plucky girl reporter? And it’s by Sarah Rees Brennan? Enough said.
  10. The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski: I went into this one knowing nothing about the book itself or its author beyond the basics. Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I found a book about parallel universes, alternate history, and family all wrapped up in a wish by the author to write a novel similar to Pride and Prejudice with “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and art as continued motifs. Be still my heart.
  11. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: It’s not The Scorpio Races but very little is. In a lot of ways this is a quiet start to a series but I’m so in for the rest of the quartet and learning more about Blue and Gansey. So. In.
  12. Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin: There are few authors I love as much as Gabrielle Zevin (and not just because she recognizes me at signings sometimes!) and few series that excite me as much as her Birthright books. There is, in fact, so much I like about this series that it’s hard to distill my thoughts on this second installment for my list except to say I love the backdrop almost as much as I appreciate that the series features a romance without being about a romance.

You can also find my list on Pinterest if you want to see all of the lovely covers.

Honorable Mentions (the books that didn’t make my main list but have kept me thinking all year):

  • Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson: This might be the last book I finish in 2012. I put off reading it for a long time because I didn’t know what to expect and I think I was afraid it wouldn’t be what I wanted. But it was everything I wanted. Dimensional and beautiful and so much more than a retelling.
  • Frost by Marianna Baer: This one was a lot of fun and I’m still very sorry it didn’t go all the way in last year’s Cybils. Alas. While it doesn’t quite stand up to a really close reading it is a lot of fun with spooky twists around every corner.
  • The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron: I hardly know where to start with this one. This book completely snuck up on me but with steampunk elements and a Victorian setting it’s not surprising that it became an instant favorite.
  • Fracture by Megan Miranda: Every time I think about giving away my copy I look at the writing and realize I can’t. I loved this one and because of it’s Les Mis references I’ve been thinking about it a lot with all of the Les Miserables movie trailers turning up on TV.
  • Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood: Such a fun read! I’m so excited for the sequel and love seeing Jessica on Twitter. Definitely a deceptive cover for a book with a lot of depth. And feminism! And alternate history!
  • Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg: Eulberg is always aces in my book. Taking this one off my main list was an agonizing decision which is why it needed an honorable mention. In terms of personal moments this was also a big one since I got to interview Elizabeth Eulberg, one of my favorite authors (and imaginary BFF *cough*) about this title–and hopefully it won’t be the last time!
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith: This one was a fun fast read but it really got me thinking. I feel like with lists like this there is always a bias favoring books read later in the year because, well, it’s easier to remember recent reads. That said this is one of the most effervescent books I’ve read (not just in 2012). It also easily has one of my favorite covers of 2012.

Buzzworthy Titles (the ones everyone else is talking about):

  • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore: After having problems with the earlier books in the series, I’m still pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one (and Giddon–though that is probably much less surprising).
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: I still haven’t read it! I know, I know. But every time I try to pick it up I remember at least one character is probably doomed and I just cant do it. Soon.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer: Honestly I read this so long ago I forgot it was a 2012 title! I enjoyed it and I love the attention it’s getting but I’m honestly a bit surprised it had enough staying power to maintain this level of attention from its pub date to the end of the year. Then again, it’s a Cinderella retelling with cyborgs and aliens–why wouldn’t people still be talking about it?!

Hemlock: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hemlock by Kathleen PeacockMackenzie’s life was turned upside down when her best friend, Amy, was murdered by a werewolf.

Since then, Mac isn’t sure what to think. Amy haunts her dreams. Her best friend, Kyle has been unaccountably distant. While Amy’s boyfriend, Jason, seems determined to crash and burn all on his own.

Worse, Trackers have come to town looking for the white werewolf that killed Amy last spring and might be back to continue its murder spree.

Desperate to protect Jason from himself, and ease her own nightmares and guilt, Mac decides to try and find the white werewolf herself. As Mac’s investigation brings her closer to the truth she also learns unsettling secrets about her friends and her town leaving Mac uncertain of who she can trust as she tries to find the white werewolf before it find her in Hemlock (2012) by Kathleen Peacock.

Hemlock is Peacocks first novel as well as the first book in her Hemlock trilogy.

Peacock creates an interesting world with characters who are well-rounded with both strengths and flaws aplenty. Separately, in fact, all of the characters are quite likable and entertaining. The problem comes when they begin to interact with each other.

Mac comes across as a strong heroine in the beginning of the story, but the more the story continues, the more irritating she becomes. Despite being necessarily self-sufficient Mac is embarrassingly clingy in her efforts to save Jason from himself. She is also painfully dense when it comes to Kyle. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, any declaration that a character is strong needs some kind of depth to back it up. Mac doesn’t deliver in the arena. Aside from making her a frustrating heroine, Mac’s irritating personality made the inevitable love triangle unconvincing.

There is always a push and pull with mysteries featuring teen protagonists. The book is about the teens, they obviously need to be at the center of the investigation and the action–that’s the whole point of the book. Unfortunately, Mac’s logic for pursuing the werewolf herself felt very contrived. I also was frustrated at her insistence on keeping her cousin in the dark later in the story. I get it, absent parental figures make stories easier. At the same time it just seemed heavy-handed and clumsy to push Mac’s cousin to the side like that.

Filled with suspense, Hemlock is part mystery, part fantasy, all action. Though there is gore and violence thanks to the vicious werewolf attacks in the story, it is kept in check making this a good choice for someone looking for a read similar to the Hunger Games books but with less violence and (slightly) fewer tears.

Possible Pairings: Clarity by Kim Harrington, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

The Darkest Minds: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, she didn’t know her world was about to change. She knew about the disease sweeping through the country’s children–it was impossible to miss when kids kept dying. She didn’t know that surviving the disease was the worse outcome.

Surviving, it turns out, was another word for changing–waking up one day with abilities that used to be the impossible stuff of movies; waking up with strange powers that most of the kids, especially Ruby, can’t begin to understand. Or control.

Now sixteen, Ruby knows just how dangerous she is. She knows she’ll never be allowed to leave Thurmond, the government camp set up to “rehabilitate” other kids like her.

She also knows that she has to escape to survive.

On the run, desperate to get away, Ruby soon falls in with other kids looking for a sanctuary called East River. Ruby knows she can’t let anyone get close–not after what happened on her tenth birthday–but maybe they can all use each other to get to East River in one piece.

Life outside Thurmond isn’t what Ruby expected. Turns out, staying under the radar is hard when you’re dangerous. Ruby lost control of her life when she was ten years old. If she can learn more about her own abilities, she might be able to reclaim that control. But everything in life comes with a price. Especially freedom in The Darkest Minds (2012) by Alexandra Bracken.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Darkest Minds is Bracken’s second novel. It is also the first in a trilogy.

This book was one of my most anticipated 2012 reads. I fell in love with Bracken’s debut novel Brightly Woven and ever since I could not wait to see what she released next.

Part road trip, part sci-fi adventure, part dystopian The Darkest Minds does not disappoint. With a plot that turns on a dime it is a guaranteed page-turner with an ending that will leave readers anxious for the next installment.

At the same time, The Darkest Minds is so much more than an action-packed read. Ruby’s story is heart-wrenching and horrifying but her resilience and her persistence are fierce to behold. The other characters in the story are vibrant and beautifully written–even at their most villainous.

Bracken has created a disturbing world with elements that are both fantastical and uncomfortably possible in our own world. Ruby’s voice throughout the novel is as smooth as honey filled with descriptions that bring the eerie Virginia landscape of the story vividly to life. The Darkest Minds is a stunning, sometimes harrowing, start to a series; confirming that Bracken is an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, White Cat by Holly Black, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012