The Graces: A Review

The Graces by Laure EveEveryone says that the Graces are witches.

Thalia might dress the part with her spangly skirts and scarves, and Fenrin might bewitch all the girls in town with his good looks and charm. But Summer, the youngest Grace, is the only one willing to admit that she is exactly what everyone in town whispers.

Everyone wants to get close to the Graces. Everyone knows how much it must hurt to lose their interest. Because everyone, inevitably, loses the Graces’ interest.

River is new in town and desperate to attach herself to the Graces. She’s in love with Fenrin, like everyone, even though it’s a cliche. She hopes that seeing into their strange world might understand some of what’s been happening to her. But first River has to become one of the Graces. And she’s will to do whatever it takes to get their attention in The Graces (2016) by Laure Eve.

The Graces is Eve’s first novel and the start of a series.

Eve builds tension early with a narrator who remains nameless for the first part of the novel. Readers know that River arrived in town under a cloud, forced to move for reasons she will not divulge. River sees herself as different and other–just like the Graces themselves–and her narration is suitably calculating and cold.

While The Graces is atmospheric, the beginning remains slow with River carefully circling the Grace siblings as she tries to break into their orbit. The push and pull between what is true and what is not works well with the interplay between magic and reality throughout the novel.

Recommended for readers looking for a trippy book with twists reminiscent of Liar and readers who enjoy an unsympathetic main character–whether to root for them or to watch them fail.

Possible Pairings: The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Wink, Poppy, Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2016*

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Spontaneous: A Review

Spontaneous by Aaron StarmerMara Carlyle’s class is thrown into chaos when Katelyn Ogden explodes in the middle of third period calculus. After Katelyn’s untimely demise more seniors start blowing up. After suspecting terrorism, suicide, and other sundry conspiracies, the town of Covington soon realizes that the high school seniors are falling victim to spontaneous combustion.

No one knows why it’s happening. No one knows who might be next.

All Mara and her best friend Tess want to do is make it to graduation in one piece. But that might be harder than they think as students keep popping with no obvious pattern or warning. Mara’s senior year is going to have love, friendship, drugs, and even more explosions than the usual high school drama would suggest in Spontaneous (2016) by Aaron Starmer.

Mara’s first-person narration is dark, no-nonsense, and sometimes blatantly insensitive as she tries to make sense of her friends and classmates blowing up. She deals with the stress and the possibility of her own eventual demise with humor and avoidance.

Starmer’s prose is snappy and substantive. Like many critically acclaimed novels, Spontaneous strikes a good balance between philosophical and absurd. Unfortunately, much of the story also feels like it is being spoon-fed to readers with heavy-handed descriptions and plotting.

Spontaneous isn’t the first quasi-literary YA novel to be written by a male author with a female protagonist. It also won’t be the last. Unfortunately, and this speaks to a number of potential flaws in the text, nothing about this book makes it matter that Mara is a girl. She could be anyone from any background. Nothing about her feels distinct or unique, begging the question why is this her story and not the story of one of the other unlucky seniors at Covington High School?

Throughout the novel, Mara keeps readers at a remove both from herself and from the other characters who populate the novel. While possibly a deliberate decision by Starmer, it does little to endear Mara to readers or generate much interest in her story.

Unfortunately an interesting premise and strong writing are not enough to make Spontaneous a compelling story. Spontaneous is a wacky, macabre novel sure to appeal to fans of Grasshopper Jungle.

Possible Pairings: Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes, Going Bovine by Libba Bray, Deadline by Chris Crutcher, Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn, Hellhole by Gina Damico, We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2016*

Three Dark Crowns: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeOn the island of Fennbirn, a reigning queen gives birth to triplets each generation. Once the triplets are born, the queen’s rule is over and she is exiled with her consort to his homeland. The triplets–all equal heirs to the crown–are separated and raised according to their magic until the year they turn sixteen when the real battle for the throne begins. By the end of the year the crown will go to the last queen left alive.

Katharine has been raised by the poisoners, arguably the most powerful group on the island and the ruling class for generations. But Katharine is weak. Even the simplest poisons wreak havoc on her body– a fact that she and her guardian are determined to keep hidden at any cost.

Mirabella is a powerful elemental with the ability to summon storms and conjure fire. Her power is unprecedented drawing even the supposedly neutral temple priestess to champion her bid for the crown.

Arsinoe has found familial love and friendship in her home among the naturalists. But she has not found her magic. She cannot control animals of any size or make the smallest plants bloom–something any naturalist should be able to accomplish from a young age.

As Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe contemplate their fate they all have their eye on the crown. Katharine knows the crown is her only chance at revenge. Mirabella feels the crown is her right as the strongest heir but she isn’t sure if she wants it. Arsinoe knows she is unlikely to survive the year but she is determined to stay alive for as long as she can. Three sisters, three dark magics, one crown in Three Dark Crowns (2016) by Kendare Blake.

Three Dark Crowns is the start of a trilogy. The book follows Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe in close third person narration. Snippets of the story also follow those closest to the sisters as all three move inexorably toward the battle for the crown.

Blake expertly brings the island of Fennbirn and its strange customs and fierce traditions to life. Evocative prose and vivid landscapes make the island a secondary character in the novel as different parts of Fennbirn are revealed in each chapter.

Magic on this island has a cost, as does the right to rule, and throughout the novel all three sisters pay dearly. Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe are distinct characters with ambitions that have demanded they harden their hearts and make great sacrifices.

Three Dark Crowns is dark fantasy at its finest and most tense. Page-turning action contrasts with moments that will leave readers breathless. Intricate plotting, surprising moments of intersection between the characters, and shocking twists make this a must-read. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*